Art and honesty: Truth in advertising

Yesterday at the cinema we were treated to a trailer for The Iron Lady. Having seen the film only a few days ago, I was struck by just how dishonest this particular piece of marketing was. The trailer clearly implied that The Iron Lady is the story of Margaret Thatcher’s political career, when the film is (as I’ve noted with great frustration) anything but political. In truth it is a film about a senile old lady recalling a series of newsreel montages.


I don’t pretend to be so naïve as to believe a film trailer is made with the intention of giving audiences a genuine sense of a film, to help them make an informed decision about whether to see it; I’m fully aware that it’s just another marketing tool carefully and conventionally designed to coax ticket buyers into parting with their pennies. But where is the line? Could the distributors of Michael Winterbottom’s sex ‘n’ songs docudrama 9 Songs have edited a trailer containing only live music performances, or only quasi-pornographic sex scenes – that is to say, concealing half of the nature of the film – and claimed to have honestly represented their product? This is effectively what the marketers of The Iron Lady have done.

I’m a wannabe film director. I find, when I think about the challenge of publicising my films, that my ideas fall into one of two categories: art or honesty. The few ideas I have for trailers are works of art in their own right; they (if successful) stand alone but invoke the same emotional responses as the films they represent. These ideas are rare; I’m a wannabe film director, not a wannabe film marketeer. My inclination regarding the films for which I have no such inspiration is to make some sort of mini-documentary in which the filmmakers tell the audience about the film. Here’s what it’s about; here’s why we made it; here’s why we like it. I would love it if all trailers were designed to conform to these categories. (But, of course, that’s not the nature of marketing. Most films are awful, and while I don’t expect distributors to be quite so frank as to admit that, it would probably be difficult to talk honestly about the concept and making of a terrible film without giving away some of its flaws.)

What do you think? Is the truth in advertising more flexible when selling art? If not, how could we ever regulate it? Do you have any other examples – cinematic or otherwise – of brazenly dishonest advertising?

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