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Previews a blast from the past

A taste of some legendary films is available at a Web site that catalogues movies trailers from as far back as 1933.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published August 24, 2006

The Internet offers plenty of preview trailers, usually promoting new releases on studio-sponsored Web sites. But the savviest online repository is Movie-List (www.movie-list.com), which features dozens of previews dating to 1933's King Kong.

Some previews on Movie-List were created for re-releases and home video ads and the site could do a better job of identifying those. Others are "teasers" designed to generate word-of-mouth before the original release without revealing much of the movie. The best reasons for visiting the site are those original versions lifted from special edition DVDs or transferred from film vaults.

Here's a sampling of classic flashbacks available in downloadable video versions by clicking on the links below:

The Godfather: The best American movie ever took an unusual approach with its marketing. Rather than linking film clips with narration, the trailer is a series of still photographs from Francis Ford Coppola's film using pans and zooms to create an illusion of movement. Nino Rota's theme music lends emotional heft and nostalgic pull.

The only genuine footage is a late, brief clip of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) playing with his grandson in a garden, followed by a bronze bust of Brando (that didn't appear in the movie) in majestic shadows. No narration or identification of budding stars like Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall, just a suggestion that this would be an important work of art.

Chinatown: A great example of preview restraint, with sprinkled clues and memorable scenes stopped short of their payoffs: Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) has his nose threatened with a knife but we don't see the slash. Gittes slaps information from a femme fatale (Faye Dunaway) but we don't hear her shocking confession of a young girl's identity. The preview even includes the film's closing line ("Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown.").

Twister: Sometimes preview trailers are better than the movies they're promoting. This one used strobe lighting effects to generate tension as a farming family races into a storm shelter, with wind howling and a slide lock on the door straining to hold fast. No flying cows that became the movie's cheesy trademark, but a pickup truck blown like paper into our faces is a memorable shock that turned into a cliche.

The Shining: Stanley Kubrick didn't make movies or sell them like anyone else. The Dr. Strangelove trailer mentioned in the accompanying article is available on Movie-List but I prefer this teaser for Stephen King's ghost story. It is a single, static shot of a hallway in the Overlook hotel with creepy music and credits rolling by. Then a blood flood from the elevators splashes through the hall, washing over the camera lens. Simple, yet undeniably alluring.

Independence Day: Warner Bros. left little to our imaginations with respect to massive spaceships and mass destruction. The special effects are commonplace now but for two minutes we're transported back to a time when bigger likely meant better. One surprise: The money shot of a death ray obliterating the White House isn't here.

All About Eve: An amusingly transparent cross-promotion years before media conglomerates turned news outlets into marketing shills. Bette Davis is "interviewed" by Newsweek reporter Leonard Slater, who inquires about the fictional character Eve Harrington. Davis responds by reciting George Sanders' opening scene monologue and pretending the lines are her personal thoughts.

Jarhead: The best recent example of post-MTV previews using radio hits to sell ideas. Kanye West's defiant ditty Jesus Walks ("God show me the way because the devil trying to break me down") is as hypnotic in a Gulf War setting as on the mean streets it depicts. The preview adds surreal flashes of boot camp and battlefield irreverence, plus Jamie Foxx's sarcastic "Hoo-rah" hinting his tough Marine character is fed up with fighting. The result is the antiwar message Sam Mendes' movie failed to be.

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