The Genius Film Trailers of Pablo Ferro!


Our guest blogger Marcus Herring joins us for another post on one of his favorite filmic subjects! Marcus, take it away…


Once upon a time, it was quite common to hear someone remark that their favorite thing about going out to the movies was watching the trailers — or “the previews”, as they used to say, before the Internet made everyone more savvy with industry terminology. Now, I don’t want to pass any overt judgement on the current state of cinema, but I just don’t hear anyone make that comment anymore. One thing I do hear these days is that the trailers “show the whole movie.” That’s debatable, but one thing’s for sure: most modern trailers follow a highly predictable formula.

Not all trailers used to be better back in “the good old days.” Some old trailers are real duds, but many achieve a kind of high art unto themselves. I bet you can think of a couple of ’70s trailers off the top of your head that are actually better than the movie. Exorcist II? Perhaps Zabriskie Point? I prefer not to speculate that this phenomenon is a result of the movie just not being very good, as there is an art to cutting an amazing trailer, and some editors really have a knack for it. It is undeniable that there was an experimental zeitgeist that pervaded the ’60s and ’70s — which led some film editors to produce some really awesome trailers.

It’s uncommon to know who cut what trailer. There are never on-screen credits for them specifically, so it’s more or less an anonymous task. There is at least one artist, however, who really made a name for himself with some of the most creative film trailers ever assembled: Pablo Ferro. Pablo’s more popularly known for his work as a master title sequence designer (Dr. Strangelove and The Thomas Crown Affair among countless others) and occasionally an actor as well (Greaser’s Palace), but Pablo also crafted a number of the most memorable trailers of all time.

After working in comics (with Stan Lee) and animation (with Disney legend Bill Tytla) as a multitalented illustrator/animator/typographer, Pablo came to film through advertising. His Beachnut Gum ad caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick, who hired him to create the trailers, teasers and titles for Dr. Strangelove. Pablo brought many of his trademark styles to his work on that film, most memorably his hand-drawn letters for the title sequence — but the Dr. Strangelove trailer is a behemoth at which to marvel: Giant text pops up asking you questions you can’t answer, cutting on/off with quick edits (125 cuts per minute, in an age of linear editing!), all set to the “clink clonk” of a marimba. Truly brilliant stuff.

Watch the trailer for “Dr. Strangelove”!
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Kubrick liked it so much that he asked Pablo to create another trailer for A Clockwork Orange. Employing his “quick cut” style and his penchant for graphic animation, the trailer becomes a work of art unto itself.

Watch the trailer for “A Clockwork Orange”!
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After seeing Pablo’s work, Kubrick told him, “Pablo, the trailer is actually better than the movie!” To which Pablo replied, “No, it’s not; it’s just my interpretation of the movie.” Maybe that’s what we’re missing these days — someone with an actual point of view giving the audience their interpretation. In modern trailers, we merely get a hyped-up Cliff’s Notes version of the film. Now, you can reason that since he collaborated with Kubrick, Pablo had fantastic material to work with in the first place, but check out this trailer for John Boorman’s Zardoz. If you’ve ever seen this notoriously wigged-out ’70s sci-fi tale, then you might agree that Pablo’s trailer is far more cohesive a work than the feature film itself. Pablo even shot a bunch of incredible animation separately for the trailer:

Watch the trailer for “Zardoz”!
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Now that’s a movie I wanna see!

In an interesting side note, Pablo also cut a very rare trailer for Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude that so enraged Bob Evans (who ran Paramount at the time) that he had Pablo thrown off the studio lot. The trailer featured a few scenes that aren’t in the final cut of the movie: a kiss between the unlikely couple and a scene on the beach where some kids push big sticks into the sand to spell out “FUCK WAR.” Evans almost choked on his cigar when he saw these clips, and had Pablo both kicked off the project and barred from the Paramount lot because he was “weird.” To Evans, it was gross to see Harold and Maude kissing, but to Pablo, it was just a love story. The trailer is the only place that these two scenes exist. Evans hated it so much that even the negative was destroyed!

Pablo cut many more incredible trailers over the years, and of course, he went on to have a very long career in title sequence design. At age 76, he is still working today as a title designer and traditional animator.

The Cinefamily is devoting an entire evening to showcasing the genius of Pablo Ferro on Tuesday September 27th, with Pablo himself in attendance! He’ll bring loads of unavailable commercials (Beachnut Gum!), rare 35mm trailers (the Japanese version of A Clockwork Orange!), lost animations, and of course, his famous title sequences. We’ll finish everything off with an ultra-rare presentation of Pablo’s 1969 short The Inflatable Doll, starring one of our favorite on-screen strangemen, Don Calfa! Please join us this very special evening with one of Hollywood’s truly unsung auteurs.

Incidentally, for the last few years, we’ve been trying to carry this spirit of THE TRULY AWESOME TRAILER here at Cinefamily — and when we can, we cut our own trailers for the movies we show. Viva Pablo!