This year has brought with a lot of talk about the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World, the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey comedy classic that brought already well-known “SNL” characters to the big screen. It’s aso been a time to celebrate a quarter century since writer/director Quentin Tarantino announced his presence as a major new filmmaker when Reservoir Dogs debuted at Sundance.
This past Monday marked another movie’s 25th anniversary. This one didn’t get as many retrospectives and remembrances but it’s no less notable. It was in May of 1992 that The Player, directed by Robert Altman and starring Tim Robbins, hit theaters. Based on the Michael Tolkin of the same name (which is way darker than the movie), the story follows Griffin Mill (Robbins), a development executive at a movie studio who spends his days hearing pitches from writers and greenlighting projects. One day he begins getting threatening letters from a spurned writer and starts to be overwhelmed by paranoia, to the point that he confronts someone he suspects and kills him. Mill must now deal with an investigation into the murder while beginning an affair with the dead writer’s girlfriend and navigating the treacherous waters of studio politics, where someone more hip and connected is always just inches away from unseating you from power.
There were a couple different posters, but the best one, the one that stands out the most, doesn’t show any of the members of the ensemble cast Altman assembled. The leads have their names shown, but no faces, which would have been a natural tactic to use here. Instead the primary image is that of a spool of film that dangles from the top and is tied to form a noose. That’s a wonderfully noirish image that shows, in conjunction with the palm trees at the bottom, that the story not only takes place in Hollywood but is about the film industry in some manner. The poster actually works better because it doesn’t show the faces of the cast since what’s here better conveys the tone and feel of the movie and the story, showing that it’s a murder mystery, but the noose is a bit more ambiguous. Is it being used on a victim or is someone, as the saying goes, tightening the noose around their own neck? That’s not clear and adds to the mystery of what’s being sold here. If there’s a weak element to the poster it’s the copy at the top, which declares “Everything you’ve heard is true!” as if this is some sort of Hollywood tell-all.
Another one-sheet takes a bit of a meta twist. The above theatrical poster – or at least a variation on it – is shown as just part of it, as if it’s been glued to a brick wall. Robbins is shown emerging from that poster onto the sidewalk, a schmoozing smile on his face. So it’s conveying that the movies are stepping out of fiction and into reality, which is a little too close to the approach taken a year later on the poster for The Last Action Hero. The best part of this version is that it uses the “Now more than ever!” copy that will a repeated theme in the movie itself.
The trailer, of course, is much more focused on the stars and the cameos. We’re immediately told that the movie comes from Robert Altman and that the story takes place in Hollywood. Through a few scenes of movies being pitched and him shaking hands with movers and shakers his position in the movie industry ecosystem is established. That all gives us a look at some of the big names that pop up over the course of the story. Halfway through the conflict begins as Mill begins to receive threatening postcards. That sets into motion all other events as he comes under investigation for murder, angers his girlfriend, begins wooing another woman. We see Mill’s world closing in around him as all these threads, especially the police pressure, begin to come together to increasingly threaten his place at the studio and elsewhere.
It’s a tight trailer that certainly highlights Altman as the director but also plays heavily to sell it as a noir crime story that’s set in the cutthroat world of Hollywood studio politics. Robbins is of course the focus since its Mill’s story we’re following and we see him through the various stages of confidence and panic the character goes through, but all that’s in the second half of the spot. The first half just wants to sell this as a glitzy drama with lots of stars popping in for a minute or two here and there.
One thing I remember from the time the movie was released was how much of an emphasis there was in the press around how this was Altman’s return to form. Not that he’d been absent from filmmaking or directing, but his output in the 1980s wasn’t at the same level of the magic that came out of the 70s, so the narrative was that he was “back.” The emphasis on Altman that’s shown in the trailer and on the posters reinforces that angle.
As should be clear, this was being sold as a star-studded noir mystery. Again, it’s not even as cynical as the source novel but was still a dryly funny thriller about one man’s overwhelming desire to maintain his position on the food chain and the lengths he’ll go to in order to do so.