Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Problem With Previews

Iris Dement--"Let The Mystery Be" (mp3)

I like to tease. I like to be teased. It's one of my favorite forms of social interactions, and maybe even the one I'm best at. Teasing, in any or all of its contexts, is an art form built around the idea that less can become more. Teasing says, I'll give you just enough to catch your interest; it will be up to you to decide whether or not you want to follow through.

And so, there was a time when I lived for previews. One of the real pleasures of getting to go to the movies in the theater came before the feature ever started--an endless string of teasers for new films that would cause us to look at each other or learn over and say, "I'm definitely seeing that one!" Back then, the perfect movie trailers gave us glimpses, but only glimpses. They set up the mystery, but they gave no indication of how it might be solved. They showed the crisis, but nothing of the resolution.

Then previews stopped teasing.

When did it happen? I don't really know. At first, there was that occasional movie where I kind of recoiled, wanting to cover my eyes and ears and scream, "No more! Don't tell me anymore." But then they all started doing it. If it was a prison escape movie, you found out from the previews that the escape occurred. If it was a romantic comedy about two families feuding over a wedding, you knew darn well that the marriage would indeed take place. You knew that the Kraken would be released. You knew that the "Perfect Storm" would capsize the boat. You knew, heck, these days, the trailer for The Usual Suspects would probably tell you who Kaiser Soze is!

It must work. That's the only thing that I can conclude. It must bring in millions and millions of extra dollars if you play out 80% of a film during its preview. Today's viewer must like knowing a pretty good bit of the plot. Because otherwise, why would trailer after trailer give away most of the movie?

I don't like it.

I don't care for the trend at all. Call me that old-fashioned person who enjoys a surprise, who likes walking into a movie without a full idea of what it's about, who doesn't necessarily get online to read a restaurant menu so that I can walk in the door already knowing what I'm going to order.

The last manifestation of this pattern involves music--new music, anticipated music, big name music, NPR music. Several of the most anticipated releases this fall have been available for pre-listening on public radio websites, where you very carefully cannot pre-own the imminent CD, but you can pre-hear it. Neil Young's Le Noise was on there, as were Dylan's earlydemos, and now Springsteen's outtakes from Darkness On The Edge Of Town, known as The Promise.

The latter comes out today. I will be going to a listening party tonight. I will not have heard a single note of the "new" songs, but for a 30-second preview of one that I heard on Itunes several weeks ago. I liked it.

Fully realizing how this goes against other descriptions I've offered of my modern music buying habits, I do take great pleasure in sitting down with a brand-new, unheard CD that I can listen to in its entirety on my own terms for the first time. And maybe the second, third, and fourth. Even if the whole thing doesn't live up to expectations, I like the ability to hear each song, not knowing what the one that follows will be, not knowing if it will be better, worse, or just different from what preceded it. In short, I like to familiarize myself with new music at my own pace.

And, perversely, I don't even mind getting burned once in awhile. Much as I like Neil Young's Le Noise, that Fork In The Road that he put out a year or so ago was something that I listened to (parts of) once and said, "Sorry, Neil, that one didn't click for me. Next time, buddy." Same for Bruce's Working On A Dream. But there are no hard feelings. It all goes with hanging with an artist. Not every song is a work of genius. Any longtime fan of Tom Petty's knows that, right?

In fact, I got the new Lloyd Cole CD, Broken Record, in the mail last weekend (the only way to get it) and built a night around eventually sitting down with a beer in the kitchen and letting it play. The first time, I thought, decent. The second time I played a couple of songs in the car on the way to meet my dad at Panera. Last night, I heard more of it, driving around in the rain, and I thought, this is a strong, mature CD from someone I've been listening to for 25 years, and its songs insinuate themselves slowly, but deeply. Each listen is more rewarding, at least at my pace.

So, no, I'm really not interested in a test drive, at least not in a CD from an artist I've listened to for a long time. I'm not interested in the website's efforts to be a part of the event. I'm not interested in it being there before I'm ready for it to be there. I'd rather just let the mystery be, and solve it on my own time when I'm good and ready. That's the way life usually works, isn't it?


Billy said...

About once a month, I'll disappear inside Apple's Trailers site for a good hour, scouring through practically every trailer they offer. Because I only get to see a fraction of the movies I used to watch, the trailers and Rotten Tomatoes are my way of filtering. Well, and I just love trailers.

While more trailers do give away too much, there are still plenty of trailers that do it right.

The music preview thing... I just miss Tower Records and the joy of listening to dozens of CDs before making a risky purchase.

troutking said...

Agree with you on this one, especially for music. The release day should be the damn release day! I don't need a preview, especially when it's the Boss. I've already decided it's good.

Thom Anon said...

Speaking of previews, this one for "Your Highness" is all kinds of awesome:



Bob said...

Anon, and blocked by our firewall.