There are plenty of movies about Hollywood hedonism. That’s the theme of…well…if not all then certainly many of the movies that take place there and tell the stories of the actors and others who make the movies themselves. It seems this is fertile ground for tales of indulgent talent, executives with malfunctioning moral centers and more. Admittedly it’s a great backdrop on which to tell about either someone’s descent into ruin or their redemption from a self-destructive lifestyle.
The latest movie to take this tack is also the latest from director Terrence Malick, Knight of Cups. Christian Bale plays Rick, a screenwriter who’s struggling to balance the artistic ambitions he once had amidst the easily-accessible excesses available to him in the entertainment industry. The movie is divided into several chapters, each of which focus on a different relationship in Rick’s life, whether with members of his family or with the various women who circle around him, and which tell more about the story of Rick trying to figure out his place in the world.
The movie’s theatrical poster – there were other promotional one-sheets and international versions but only one domestic poster as far as I could tell – is designed to resemble the tarot card that inspired the title and indeed the story. So the main image is of Bale, who’s shown upside down and in front of a large, looming moon with the palm trees and mountains of southern California at the bottom. Framing that at the top is copy that just says “A Guest,” which adds to the tarot card feel. Below the moon we get Malick’s name and below the photo is the title treatment and the names of the three main cast members, Bale, Blanchett and Portman.
I like it because it’s a little confusing. There’s nothing about the story here, though you can guess that Bale’s character is a bit aimless and not all that comfortable with his lot in life. The muted color palette works for me as well and if you put all that together with Malick’s name you can guess that this is going to be another meandering character study/tone poem of a movie. If you’re unfamiliar with any of that it’s just going to likely turn you off because what the hell is going on here?
The official trailer, which wasn’t all that different from an international version releases months prior, presents a very trippy story. We see Bale’s character moving through what seems to be some sort of midlife existential crisis as he struggles with the man he thought he’d be, the man he wants to be and the man everyone else thinks he is. That’s portrayed through a series of scenes of him leading a fairly hedonistic lifestyle involving lots of parties, lots of women and more. He’s never seen on-screen talking but all of this is accompanied by narration of him explaining the issues he’s working through.
It’s pretty darn effective, at least at setting the mood. If you didn’t know who the director here was and had to guess, most people would likely choose Malick as this very much looks like the kind of thing he’s been making lately. It establishes not the story so much as the framework of the characters and so it works very well.
Online and Social
The official website is actually pretty good. The landing page gives you a variation on the key art along with a full list of cast members and a rotating series of quotes from early festival reviews of the movie. Big buttons toward the bottom encourage you to watch the trailer again or follow a Tumblr blog for the movie that has videos, stills, behind-the-scenes pictures and more. Some of those videos are mini character-profiles, including some for the women in the story that will impact Rick’s life.
Back to the main site, “Videos” has all those videos that I mentioned, some of which are focused on characters, some on an emotion or theme in addition to the trailer. “Story” has a lengthy plot description (this is not a movie well-served by brevity, so that’s good) as well as mention of Malick and the rest of the crew. The cast gets bios and career overviews in the “Cast” section that’s next and then the filmmakers get the same treatment in “Filmmakers.”
There are several stills from the movie in the “Gallery,” but they’re not downloadable. “Reviews” has select quotes from trade pub reviews, though the shortness of those pull quotes and the lack of links to the full versions make e suspect there’s some selective picking going on here. Finally, “Cities Playing” gives you the dates when the movie will be opening in a market near you, assuming of course you’re in a major city and not out in the suburbs.
The movie’s Facebook page mostly has short videos that countdown to the film’s release or reminders of the same positive review pull quotes that are on the main site. The Twitter profile has much of the same but includes some talent RTs and other pictures from the premiere and other events. Finally the Instagram profile has those same sort of photos and short videos.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’m overtly aware of but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some limited online advertising done along with a few outdoor ads in the markets it’s opening in this weekend. But I can’t be sure.
Media and Publicity
Outside of marketing materials and clips, the movie got some buzz started when it was announced it would have its U.S. premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Two big features popped just before release.
The first was an interview with Bale where he talked about what it was like to shoot the movie with Malick almost four years ago along with how he wants people to experience it, the time he had at the recent Oscar ceremony and more. It’s wide-ranging and he comes off as a big fan of Malick and his methods, which isn’t the surprising.
The second was a feature on Thomas Lennon, the writer/comedian who has a brief cameo in the movie during a party scene but who had a uniquely interesting experience on the set. Lennon offers his own perspective on the lack of direction Malick gave him. It’s an often hilarious recounting of someone who feels completely out of his element until he finally locks in with the filmmaker’s vision and figures out the beat of the song he’s being asked to play.
Other than that there wasn’t much. Bale and the rest of the cast spoke about the process of making the movie and more at its premiere but that was about it. Most of the rest of the publicity came from the release of trailers, clips, photos and more official marketing material.
I very much feel like this needs to be graded on a curve simply by virtue of it being a Terrence Malick production. The campaign can’t be evaluated on the traditional scale of how well it sells the story to the audience or presents a consistent brand image to the audience. The brand being sold here is Malick and you’re either a true believer or you’re not. And even if you are the odds are good you’re going to have a strong opinion one way or the other to the movie itself, with the marketing being of little consequence to your decision to see the movie or not.
All that’s not to say that the campaign can’t be evaluated in some form. But it needs to be judged by whether or not it accurately presents a Malick film to the audience and yes, it does that well. The movie here is presented as a kind of waking dream of a story that may not be linear – the trailer doesn’t hint at the sectional nature of the story – but is sure to be intriguing in some manner or another. It promises, if nothing else, something that few are going to be lukewarm on.