I only recently realized I’ve pretty much replaced Hollywood movie-watching with Hollywood trailer-watching. Movies are expensive in Delhi and Tamil/Hindi films give me an extra hour in the theatre. I tell myself I’ll stream the big Hollywood films after their releases, but if I think back to the last two years, I still haven’t seen — to name a few — Interstellar, Avengers, Lincoln, Birdman.
Trailer-watching can be such a rounded practice because most trailers now give away the plot, atmosphere, main actors, main scenes, production values, pacing, soundtrack and camerawork. Trailers now are simply the most curiosity-killing things ever (yes and I’m generally a jaded viewer too so it’s a bad combo). And they give me just enough to not be utterly lost in conversations.
This is what the reigning message of YouTube appears to be: if you are one of those oldies afraid of spoilers, then teasers are your thing. Not trailers. And even teasers are now being infiltrated with plot. During a very recent trawl through the depths of YouTube, I met the trailer(s) of Suffragette.
Now this film I had had had to watch — and of course it may not strictly count as Hollywood. The only other trailer (a clip, technically) that grabbed me this year was for Carol. How could it not, as an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel with a dyke plot. Not to mention, it had something else I can never miss on the big screen: Cate Blanchett.
After watching the Suffragette trailers again and again — both the UK and US versions — I was struck by a few things.
1) I didn’t want to get goosebumps from either, but they kinda gave them to me anyway.
2) I can’t get myself to like Carey Mulligan at all. I’ve tried (okay, that was a a bit of lie).
3) How do we explain the bizarre discrepancy between the two trailers? One is as conservative as the other is insurrectionary. The same character, Meryl Streep playing the legendary Emmeline Pankhurst, says “we don’t want to be law-breakers, we want to be lawmakers” in the UK version and “I incite in women of Britain to rebellion” in the US version.
First watch the UK one:
This trailer makes Carey Mulligan into the protagonist. We see her workplace, but more time is spent on her husband and child. It has platitudinous inter-titles like “They had to fight for their freedom” and “Before women had a voice” (as a friend pointed out, where does that leave Carey Mulligan’s cockney accent). We see some things blow up and some public disorder. But it is very cleverly spliced into shorter bursts, in the hope that the audience won’t really see who is doing what. Now watch this non-UK trailer:
Some scenes repeat in both trailers. One is of women throwing stones into a shop window. This happens at the very beginning of this trailer. And we are off. A parliamentarian whines: “If we allow women to vote, it will mean a loss of social structure.” Instead of random things blowing up, we see a woman setting fire to the postbox with clear intentions. WAM, BAM, BOFF. Even the inter-titles mean business: “Nothing ever changes/ Until change cannot be stopped”.
We see more of Carey Mulligan’s workplace and she barely appears as a mother and wife. She drops a steaming iron on the hand of a man who is sexually harassing her at her workplace. This trailer knows who the enemy is. This trailer is of a film that is about a collective of women who want change, not a heroine-centric one. We see more of the delicious Helena Bonham Carter, “I consider myself more of a solider”. The same interrogation scene within a jail is edited differently. In this one Carey Mulligan says, “We break windows, we burn things, cause war is the only language men listen to.”
So we know that the movie knows some of what these women actually did, the different ways in which they had to get their hands dirty. So then, what do we make of this clever re-jigging of the story in the UK trailer? What can we really conclude about the difference between these two trailers? Perhaps the trailer tells us more about what trailer-makers think will draw UK audiences to the theatre.
Perhaps it also tells us that the British state (and, of course, most modern states) still has a deep-rooted fear of public disorder and rioting, because deep down, they know of their own unstable foundations. In anxiously covering up the tectonic impact made on the public sphere by these women and stripping the suffragette movement of its clarity of method and strategy, this UK trailer unwittingly tells us why the suffragettes mattered. What they did may not have been easy to package into something fuzzy, Oscar-baity and matinee-friendly, but it got the job done.
PS: Some of us at The Finger have been recently introduced to an amazing set of suffragette murder mysteries.