Film

The Top 10 Gimmicks Used in Commercial Cinema

From 3D to electrified seats, filmmakers have found ways both novel and nutty to get patrons to pay for their films. Here's 10 of the most memorable examples.

First, it was movement. Then, color. Finally sound cemented film as something more than a photographic fluke. Indeed, as the artform grew and took shake, several "gimmicks" were employed to keep the people interested. After the dark days of magic lanterns and other optical entertainments, the zoetrope and its imitation of life made the movies legit. Then came the advent of the whole 24 frames per second dynamic. Throw in a few tints, some poorly recorded voice and music, and a juggernaut was unleashed. Since the first quarter of the 20th century, however, studios and those stuck getting butts into seats have been trying to find a way to up the ante. From artistic invention to flat out flimflams, the gimmick has been a major part of the motion picture experience.

Now, a near 100 years later, we're still looking. As part of today's terrain, we have feigned interactivity (hit a button on your seat, vote for where the plot goes next), seats on actuators and gimbles (to mimic movement), and the newfound affection for an increased frame rate. Not unlike the Spook Shows of the '50s and '60s which saw actors dress up as monsters to torment and tease a vulnerable audience, the modern gimmickry is all smoke and ticket sales mirrors. Still, it's interesting to reflect on the extremes some will go to in order to make money with their movies. From the oldest bait and switch tricks in the book to some of the most imaginative publicity ever propagated, the cinematic stunt remains part of the process. Here are 10 intriguing examples of its application, from the sensible to the surreal. While almost always about money, there's a little magic to be found here as well.

 
#10: Multiple Endings (Clue)

Though they are usually limited to the bonus features on your favorite DVD, some movies have actually come with purposely planned multiple endings. Unlike those rejected by the studio or suggested by the filmmaker, the big screen adaptation of the board game Clue came out with three completely different conclusions. In keeping with the spirit of the childhood fave, various combinations ("Colonel Mustard in the studio with a candlestick") were filmed, and then attached to various prints. Once sent out to theaters, there was no real way of knowing which conclusion you'd experience. Eventually, a version with all three was offered, to no major box office avail.

 
#9: The Single Take (Silent House, Russian Ark)

Because of the limits originally placed by technology (Kodak only made celluloid rolls so big), it took the advent of digital filmmaker to usher in the single continuous take. Initially offered by a Russian documentary on the famed Hermitage Museum and its history, the recent horror film Silent House suggested that, it too, was the result of one unedited 88-minute experiment. Of course, with any announced gimmick comes the critique. Many suggested that the approach taken by the 2011 thriller (and its Uruguayan counterpoint) was all just a ruse. Eventually, star Elizabeth Olson confirmed such suspicions.

 
#8: Subliminal Messages (My World Dies Screaming)

Remember that scene in Fight Club where our unnamed narrator describes Tyler Durden's job as a projectionist? Recall the moment when our hunky anti-hero inserts images of pornography into otherwise innocuous family films? Well, something like that was tried in the early '50s, visuals of coffins and skeletons added in, a single frame at a time, to give viewers of a hackneyed horror film a feeling of "unease". While never truly successful, the process had to be halted when concessioners learned they could "inspire" purchases by placing words like 'hungry' and 'Coke' into trailers and other preview material.

 
#7: Real Sex Onscreen (Tattoo, Shortbus)

Back in the midst of the Me Decade, it was a hotly debated rumor. Actors and actresses, as well as pushy producers and production folk, often used the ploy of stars really "doing it" to sell tickets to otherwise specious efforts. One of the most infamous involved Maud Adams, who suggested that her love scenes with Bruce Dern in 1981's Tattoo were not the result of casting, chemistry, and movie magic. Recently, Hedwig and the Angry Itch's John Cameron Mitchell made a mainstream drama in which the actors actually engage in sexual acts. While not offering visible penetration, it truly pushed the boundaries of the concept.

 
#6: Smell-O-Vision/Odorama (Scent of Mystery, Polyester)

After sight and sound, what's next? If theater exhibitors had their way, it would be smell. Indeed, as far back as the '50s, distributors have been trying to find a way to bring odors into the movie-going experience (and not just the ones related to the audience's personal hygiene). Sadly, the first attempt turned the theater into a landfill of competing scents. Following in the footsteps of his hyperbole hero, William Castle, Prince of Puke John Waters offered scratch and sniff cards to accompany his own sly suburban satire. It worked a bit better, if not significantly so.

Next Page

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image