Elizabeth Taylor is a name more frequently associated with gossip columns than movies these days. But without a whisper of hype, the legendary actress will turn up again on screens this month in a black-and-white, 2 3/4-minute movie hawking her new $200-an-ounce fragrance, White Diamonds. The screens, though, are in mini-theaters set up in department stores in major cities, and audiences are being drawn with the promise of free tickets and popcorn.
Produced by Epoch Films and Diamonds' manufacturer Elizabeth Arden, the movie is a cross ''between a Tennessee Williams film and Casablanca,'' says Tom Moloney, vice president of Parfums International, Arden's fragrance unit. ''It's got romance, drama, mystery.'' And Liz playing the role of an iconic actress a real stretch.
A treat for Taylorphiles, the film also marks a new trend for the fragrance industry. Faced with increased competition in the $4 billion scent market and sagging sales for high-end products, perfumeries are turning to film and video to lure customers. Estée Lauder has produced a 2 1/2-minute videocassette to promote its new Spellbound perfume (also $200 an ounce), mailing 250,000 copies to consumers and packaging another 14,000 with newsstand copies of the September Elle magazine. Its ''Scenes From a Fragrance'' is a stylish, dialogue- free production featuring a love-enraptured couple (Wilhelmina models Julie Anderson and Nick Constantino) amid New Age music and images of sand, sea, and sky.
''Video gives us a captive audience void of the competitive clutter of magazines and television,'' says Estee Lauder USA president Robin Burns, who conceived the ''Scenes'' video. ''It pulls people in.'' Says Pat Sloan, who covers the fragrance industry for Advertising Age magazine: ''Films help develop the imagery of a brand.'' Which is why both Elizabeth Arden and Estée Lauder say more video promos are in the works.
They won't come without a huge price tag. Industry analysts estimate Lauder is spending more than $15 million to introduce Spellbound. And Arden exec Moloney says the Diamonds video ''cost slightly more than producing a quality commercial,'' which averages in the high six figures. That's a lot of dollars for scents.