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There are also important racial issues that are examined throughout "A Touch of Evil"; these are accomplished through what Nerrico (1992) terms "visual representations of 'indeterminate' spaces, both physical and corporeal"; the "bordertown and the half-breed, la frontera y el mestizo: a space and a subject whose identities are not fractured but fracture itself, where hyphens, bridges, border stations, and schizophrenia are the rule rather than the exception" (Nericcio, 1992 p. 54). There are some important musical and visual elements present in the opening scenes of "A Touch of Evil" that help set the stage for what is to follow, and it quickly becomes clear that there are some highly charged oppositional forces involved that are going to create some sticky problems for themselves as well as the audience, but the cinematographic elements helped to make these issues more digestible for the America of the 1950s where segregation was still common and Hispanics had not yet assumed their pronounced demographic presence in the U.S.
At that time, "Any lingering reminders of exclusionary practices became titillating as they played into the complexity of the signification. Screening emphasized its entertainment value in order to make palatable its structuration of social space" (Case, 1996 p. 221). Clearly, then, capturing these essential elements in a motion picture trailer is an important part of any production effort, and these issues are discussed further below.
Motion Picture Trailers. In their essay, "Appropriate for All Viewing Audiences? An Examination of Violent and Sexual Portrayals in Movie Previews Featured on Video Rentals," Mary Beth Oliver and Sriram Kalyanaraman (2002) report that "The rapidly changing media landscape has contributed to the omnipresent nature of movies. Consumers are now able to view motion pictures in a variety of venues, including in the theatre and on network television, videocassette, pay-per view, and digital videodisc, among others" (p. 283). In response to this increase in diversity of entertainment choices, producers are increasingly seeking out innovative ways of marketing their movies, such as placement of highly visible and colorful promotional materials in non-traditional arenas such as shopping malls, ATMs, and the Internet. "Given that viewers report that movie previews or trailers are one of the most important determinants of motion picture selection," they say, "it is not surprising that in 1999 an average of approximately $1.6 million per film was spent on movie trailers alone" (Oliver & Kalyanaraman, 2002 p. 284). Taken together, these trends make crafting an effective movie trailer critically important to the successful outcome of virtually any investment in a major motion picture. Indeed, "The objective of nearly every trailer is to get teenage boys' butts into seats... And that means going for as much violence and sex as you can jam into 2-1/2 minutes" (Streisand, 1999 p. 56). The editors herein had even less time (as noted above, the trailer produced here was 1-1/2 minutes long), but every effort was made to take advantage of every second.
Steps to Trailer Production and Rationale. In spite of the unfamiliarity of the editors with the Adobe Premier Pro-software, the program was sufficiently intuitive that no time was lost in actually beginning work. After familiarizing ourselves with the software mechanics involved, the editors next considered what important elements of the 13-minute segment should be used and for what purpose. Following a series of reviews and note-taking, the editors determined that in order to introduce the stellar cast in "A Touch of Evil" shown in Table 1 below, a series of cameo shots of the respective stars are immediately followed by marquee boards featuring their names.
All of these shots are accompanied by shifts in the musical accompaniment from tinny player piano to the lively jazz of Henry Mancini.
Table 1. "A Touch of Evil" Cast Overview (first billed only)
Charlton Heston Ramon Miguel 'Mike' Vargas
Janet Leigh Susan 'Susie' Vargas
Orson Welles Police Captain Hank Quinlan
Joseph Calleia Police Sergeant Pete Menzies
Akim Tamiroff 'Uncle' Joe Grandi
Joanna Cook Moore Marcia Linnekar (as Joanna Moore)
Ray Collins District Attorney Adair
Dennis Weaver Mirador Motel night manager
Valentin de Vargas Pancho, Grandi hood (as Valentin De Vargas)
Mort Mills Al Schwartz, district attorney's assistant
Victor Millan Manelo Sanchez
Lalo Rios Risto, Grandi's nephew throwing acid
Michael Sargent Pretty Boy
Phil Harvey Blaine
Joi Lansing Blonde
Source: Plot Summary for Touch of Evil, 2005.
These sequences are accompanied by a tinny old-time player piano track that helps set the tone for what is to follow. The opening scene of the black-and-white trailer shows an explosion and brief chase sequence, followed by a gruff, cigar-chewing Orson Welles emerging from the driver's seat of a police car. The jazz-bongo drum combination that typified the 1950s beat generation is countered by the tinny player piano to help delineate the transitions between characters and scenes. These various ambient noises help to provide the scenes with additional dimension, as well as serving to define moments of transition between scenes and credit titles for the respective characters.
A sense of dread and foreboding is further established by the sinister appearances of rapists and other ne'er-do-wells, and the shot of the tarot cards being spread on the table helps to create a sense of intrigue and mystery about what is taking place. According to Peter Van Ness (1996), "Tarot cards are used to play an occult parlor game in which one person deals a hand to another and then reads the cards in the sense of interpreting them as augurs of health, romance, and success" (p. 532). While they are fairly well-known today with little sinister connotations associated with them, tarot cards were still closely linked with gypsy fortune-tellers and the occult in the 1950s (Van Ness, 1996). Why does Charton Heston need his fortune read, anyway? The scenes that follow help to explain that Heston is in for some unexpected twists as he maneuvers his way through the racism, the underworld and the seamier side of life on the U.S./Mexican border.
The research showed that "A Touch of Evil" (1958) was directed by Orson Welles, written by Welles and Paul Monash, and was based on a novel by Whit Masterson. There is much more than a "touch" of evil in this movie, though, and it manifests itself in a wide range of ways. To help capture this essence in a one-and-a-half minute trailer was challenging, but the editors found the Adobe Premier Pro-software to be a robust and intuitive program that allowed them to become productive in a fairly short order. The editors also determined that although a motion picture trailer is an incredibly important component of the production and marketing of virtually any movie today, there is also much more involved in the process than was originally envisioned. Identifying those important components of a 13-minute segment of a movie that would help communicate its essential elements to the audience without revealing too much about the plot was deemed a challenging enterprise indeed. Applying these same techniques to a feature-length production would represent an enormous endeavor, and the editors will watch such trailers in the future with a more critical - and appreciative - eye.
Arnold, Gary. 1998. 'Re-Edit' Inserts Welles' Final Touches in Thriller. The Washington Times, September 20, 3.
Case, Sue-Ellen. 1996. The Domain-Matrix: Performing Lesbian at the End of Print Culture. Bloomington, in: Indiana University Press.
Dirks, Tim. 2005. Greatest Films: "A Touch of Evil." [Online]. Available: http://www.filmsite.org/touc.html.
Merrill, Robert. 1993. Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance and the Detective Traditions. Critique, 34(4):241.
Nericcio, William Anthony. "Of Mestizos and Half-Breeds: Orson Welles's Touch of Evil." In Chicanos and Film. 1992. Chan a. Noriega (Ed.). New York: Garland Publishing.
Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 1997. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Plot Summary for Touch of Evil. 2005. Internet Movie Database. [Online]. Available: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052311/plotsummary.
Shannon, Jeff. 2005. "A Touch of Evil" Reviews. [Online]. Available: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00004W46J/002-1?.
Streisand, B. 1999. Lawyers, guns, money. U.S. News & World Report, (June 14) 56-57.
Tatara, Paul. 1998. "Review: Welles' genius reconstructed in 'Touch of Evil.'"…[continue]
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