This past weekend I released the latest episode of the Movies You Love Podcast — if you’ve never listened to it I recommend you check it out. In the process of editing it I couldn’t help but think something.

I did what I normally did. I listened through, then started working on my intro, which I did a few times before I got it the way I wanted it, then I began adding all the extra noises that I feel makes it feel all pseudo-professional. At this point in time I started hunting down the trailer for Psycho — the film in question — and found myself entranced. I knew that Hitchcock did these elongated trailers where he would talk about the movie as opposed to showing a sizzle reel to entice the viewers. I believe I’d even seen a couple many years back. However, something about this one struck me. It told the whole story. Hitchcock even jokes about it in the trailer. He gives away almost every beat of that film in how he describes the horrors you’re being teased to see. This in itself made me start to think about the idea of spoilers.

I don’t know if the world was as sensitive as it is now as it relates to spoilers but I do remember from when I was a child the idea of people ruining movies and tv shows. People being protective of what plot details they become privy to in conversations when they know they hadn’t seen that week’s episode of whichever show in question. While we weren’t all DVRing and streaming our content twenty years ago we still tried. We would hunt down our TV guides and find out when the episode was going to reair and try to make it in time to catch up. After which the conversation just passed. But here the conversation wasn’t calmed it was instead picked up by not just the audience but the studio and the filmmaker themselves.

So why all the full control over the conversation now? People are so afraid of being spoiled they actually refuse to discuss these ideas and themes even when promised that “it won’t spoil it”. I once wrote an article on this very website about my theatre’s blatant and malicious re-editing of a moment in Watchmen and friends I pointed it to would refuse to read it just because they hadn’t seen the film, even though it had almost nothing to do with the film itself.

It could be the difference in how we consume media today vs. in the 60s. Back then, I imagine, films were pretty much only seen in the theatre. The show would come to town, play a few weeks to a month (if lucky) and then move to the next never to be seen again for years. So what was the concern? Today we have so many ways of seeing things on our own time that we can savour the ability to consume these stories. We no longer consider it missing out since it’s waiting for us at home having been pre-recorded and we can see it without any previous interaction. Almost as if we were there in the first place. VOD is becoming a bigger and bigger deal. Making smaller films that today would only be seen in small independent markets today and never heard of for another year or two. Now they are streamed on demand to everyone who cares to see it. And this is good. I don’t deny this as a consumer and a producer this only adds benefit to all. But at the same time it’s created a mode of consumption that may be dangerous.

We start to imagine that we’re constantly seeing things in a vacuum. We start to complain about our theatre’s equipment only to improve our own at home so that we never have to go to the theatre. We can watch everything at home in 7.1 surround and 4K resolutions (the next step). But stories aren’t a definition, aspect ratio or wave length. They’re ideas and as such they remain discussion points and feelings that we can share regardless of previously seen or unseen materials by other parties.

What I’m trying to say is that I feel the conversation is of more added value to all than this inbuilt fear we’ve self generated over the past decade about self discovery. Just because we’ve created these vacuums for consumption doesn’t mean we must create vacuums for the sharing of ideas via these conversations.

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Author: Andrew Robinson

This is my blog. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My blog is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my blog is useless. Without my blog, I am useless. I must fire my blog true. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my blog and myself are defenders of my mind, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

  • I don’t think the Psycho trailer supports your argument very well. Note a couple of things about it. First — or perhaps I should say last — note the announcement at the end that nobody will be seated after the film starts. This was at Hitchcock’s insistence, precisely because he didn’t want people to realize that Janet Leigh wasn’t the star of the film throughout before they watched it. He even bought as many copies of the book as he could to keep them out of peoples’ hands. If that’s not controlling the conversation to limit spoilers, I don’t know what is.

    Then take a more critical look at those plot points described in the trailer. Notice how many dodges and deceptions there are in Hitchcock’s narration. “This picture is really important because…” and then he trails off and goes into the next room. “An important clue was found here [in the toilet]”; a flat-out lie, as Leigh’s character’s crime was actually completely irrelevant to her fate, but the trailer makes it seem important. Again, Hitchcock wanted people to believe Leigh was important for more than her final scene. The big twist about Norman and his mother, of course, is completely obscured by the way Hitchcock describes the mother’s activities.

    The trailer looks like it’s telling everything… but it’s telling it all in such a way as to paint a radically different picture. It’s truthful in its way, if you know the film… but if you don’t know the film, what you’d imagine would be different from what the film actually was. This is very much an anti-spoiler trailer.

    And it’s not a new phenomenon; “Please don’t reveal the ending to your friends” (or some variation) was often a part of a film’s marketing if there was a big twist (how effective this was, given that it announces there’s a twist, I’ll admit is debatable. But the attempts were there.) Diabolique and Witness for the Prosecution both made such requests. Even as early as 1926, The Bat asked people not to reveal the killer’s identity.

    As to whether it’s important… I’d say it is, to some extent. A movie’s purpose is to entertain, and it does so through manipulating emotions. Surprise is one of those emotions, and you can only be surprised by a film once. The Usual Suspects never looks the same once you know the secret; still good, of course, but it’s not the same experience. Thus revealing a big surprise deprives a person of that initial unknowing experience. So yes, when it’s a big surprise, I’d say keep it a secret, or at least give people a reasonable way to avoid it.

    • Apologies for the late reply, and thank you so much for this kind of amazing comment — part of it reads like “nice try” and the rest like “you may be on the right track, but let me help you some more” in the best sort of way (really)…

      I agree. And I feel like I purposefully left out some of the above in my discussion because — even though in the title and I didn’t quite say it clearly — I was basing everything solely on that trailer as opposed to the other things going on in the time.

      I have seen Les Diaboliques and I remember that end frame very well where the film asks us intentionally not to tell anyone of the twist which I thought was crazy and somehow I feel may just validate my thinking. Because the film has to tell us, as if the idea of not talking about the movie’s ending was foreign to viewers then. (Or is this me reshaping the facts to my needs at this point? I can’t tell).

      As it relates to Hitchcock playing with us in the trailer he does to a degree but he hints well enough that it’s not impossible to get clued into the whole thing as we go along. He points to the picture and walks away saying that it’s important. This is what today many viewers would consider a spoiler in itself (which is part of what I was getting at). The fact that he’s put that in our heads before actually seeing the film makes us as a viewer obsess over it and whether it pays off or not is almost unimportant at that point.

      Are films spoilable? Yes. Do I feel that the films that don’t work as entertainment or on any other level once you’ve seen them already that valuable? Not really. You can say that me making that decision for the viewer who doesn’t want to be spoiled is wrong if I attempt to just bring up the whole conversation around him, and you’d probably be right. However, I’m just trying to ask the question as to whether we’ve all gotten a little too over sensitive about this whole issue? Why should we care that much about spoilers? Why can’t we care about movies and engaging with their stories, that try to engage us as opposed to just shock us and leave us.

      • “Because the film has to tell us, as if the idea of not talking about the movie’s ending was foreign to viewers then.” Now that’s an interesting argument, and I think it’s one that has at least a degree of validity. Certainly with most films, the idea of not talking about the ending would probably have been a foreign concept; there’s no harm in discussing the ending to, say, It’s a Wonderful Life. Genre plays a large part, I think. These older films with the warnings, and most of the films that really produce the big spoiler outcries today, all seem to be suspense films or mysteries of some sort. I wonder how book clubs handled such things (but then, I guess there was an assumption that everybody in the club had finished the book by the time they discussed it.)

        I’ll agree that a film which only has surprise going for it isn’t much of a film. But there are a fair number of films that are still good on a re-watch, or a viewing with spoilers known, but which have a different experience if you don’t know what’s going on. Not better, necessarily, not worse… just different. My comment regarding The Usual Suspects wasn’t that it was only good if unspoiled, but rather that an unspoiled viewer gets the experience with the surprise revelation, and then later can have the “watch for the clues” experience, while a spoiled viewer can only have the latter experience and not both. They get one fun experience instead of two.

        I do think you’re right that people are more sensitive about in this day and age, and I think the internet is a large part of it. Back in the pre-internet days, a conversation about a movie might start with “Hey, have you seen X yet? No? Oh, OK, never mind, go see it and then we’ll talk.” Nowadays it’s much easier for someone to stumble right into a conversation that’s already taking place. I try to give a bit of a warning regarding major spoiler talk when I write in-depth on something (i.e., “If you haven’t seen The Matrix and don’t want spoilers, now’s the time to read something else”), but I don’t avoid writing about spoilers if that’s where the conversation needs to go. Other times, I’ve blocked off a section of a review between two pictures and said “If you want to avoid spoilers, skip to the second picture.”

        I think in part it’s a trust issue on the readers. Some of it’s exaggerated — I’ve seen people object to “spoilers” that were completely inconsequential to the plot — but I think it’s precisely because they don’t know much about the film. Without having seen the film, they can’t know what “new to them” knowledge is important and what is trivial; they don’t know what’s really a spoiler and what isn’t. And they don’t always trust the person writing a review to be a good judge of what’s “too much” of a spoiler… and with some justification, because there are frankly a lot of people out there who aren’t good about that.

        Ultimately, I think the most reasonable way to handle it is just to say “Hey, I’m going to be talking about things which may constitute spoilers. If you’re not comfortable about that, skip this.” Give them the option, and then it’s on their own head.