World famous Chinese activist-artist Ai Wei Wei makes his film debut with Human Flow, and not surprisingly it is interesting from a visual point of view. My experience of Ai Wei Wei is limited to the pair of documentaries I’ve seen on the man, and the bicycle art installation he did in Toronto a couple years back, but one simple take-away, beyond the political, is that he like stacking, scattering or placing a lot of little things to make a big point. And that is exactly the design philosophy of this poster. The film itself is a documentary and has been selected for competition in the 2017 edition of the Venice Film Festival.
Usually reserved for thrillers, the ‘white border’ dividing photos design (See Heist, Triple Nine, Homefront, Red) a classic poster cliche. But as with many things Soderbergh, repurposing that cliche with a bit more care. For instance the borders here in some cases split a single image, rather than just lazily putting in on-set stills or head-shots of the movie stars (a major pet peeve of mine when it comes to poster design).
The black and white mix with sunset colours also really works, and is a stand out in a year of pink posters.
Further points for the side-mountain credit block to accomodate the race-car and drifting cash under the title.
After last weeks tirade against the lazy photoshopping of guns into movie posters, let us show some love for the rare hand-painted poster, be it digital or analog. Consider this gorgeous poster for Ted Geoghegan’s Mohawk which recently premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival. First off, using the reflection of the Mohawk warrior in the water to give the the poster an ‘upside-down’ feel, is supremely inviting to take a closer look. Second, the notes of red and white stand out against the dark shades of black that comprise much of the design. Third, the closer-to-the-middle credit block placement leaves space to have the forest and the moon in the frame, the lighting elements for the entire tableau. But also and indicator that this will be a film ‘lost in the wilderness’ both figuratively and literally. You simply do not see posters like this one very often, and it is a delight to seem them this well done when they come along.
I am not meaning to pick on Atomic Blonde, a film I am very much looking forward to for both the amazing Charlize Theron and the impeccable camera work and fight choreography on display in the trailers. But take a moment at this poster as ask yourself does it really need a gun on display in it? Look closer. Now ask if it really needs an obviously photoshopped gun at an awkward angle. Wouldn’t the poster be better to showcase the movie star, the neon, the films title in a more minimalist way? I know marketing works best at a glance, not a deep closer look, but seriously, you almost get the lazy addition at a glance.
Putting guns on movie posters (and DVD/BLU-Ray box art) has been one of those time honoured traditions that is taken for a given that more people will buy or see your movie if violence and action are promised. But is this really the case? I am not aware of any exact research correlating the appearance of a fire-arm on the poster and box-office. I suspect just as many films bomb with the star holding a gun as not, but marketing puts them in the hands of the lead on the poster as a ‘just in case.’ It is often done really carelessly. Business Insider did a piece in 2016 on guns on posters and came to the conclusion in American wide release, 20% of all films have guns on the poster. That is not 20% of action films, or even 20% of ‘genre’ films, but everthing including period pieces, comedies, kids animated films, dramas, et cetera.
1 in 5!
If I may hazard a guess, it is likely that in action blockbusters it is more like 8 (or even 9) in 10. For a film like John Wick or The Expendables it makes sense to have a gun in the poster as the film is about assassins and soldiers on the warpath. It even makes sense in Atomic Blonde, which has been labelled sight-unseen as the ‘female John Wick.’ But does it HAVE to be there? Are there no smarter, better ways to make a movie desirable than without a gun? Particularly when you have to get a designer to retroactively smoosch one into the deign. See also: Robert Rodriguez’s vampire/heist comedy From Dusk Till Dawn. Or Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted which has Angelina Jolie branding a pistol in the most awkward way. Or the poster for Andrew Niccol’s In Time, where Amanda Seyfried looking longingly into Justin Timberlake’s eyes isn’t enough, she must be strangely holding a gun while doing so.
The Thailand poster might have used the original image to make their poster for In Time, although the rest of the photoshop colours are ugly, Seyfried is just lovingly resting her arm on Timberlake’s chest. Or maybe Thailand just don’t like guns. Take the poster for the American remake of Bangkok Dangerous, it looks like it is the exception (that proves the rule?) insofar as Nicolas Cage’s enormous hand is so awkward WITHOUT a gun.
In conclusion, maybe the world needs less lazy-photoshop, but part of good poster design involves demonstrating the idea or feeling of your movie without resorting to cliches (unless you are imploding them.)
We are only halfway through the year, and there sure have been a lot of posters shaded pink. I noted this a few weeks ago when The Beguiled and Baby Driver, and I bring it up again because a LetterBoxd user, Matthew Buchanan, handily assembled a host of 2017 posters to underscore the point. Now I am sure with certain shades (Blue or Grey for instance) you can easily just grab a pile of posters in any year and infer that it was a banner year (pun intended) for a certain shade, but pink is an less than typical colour to do a poster with across the history of cinema, and the trend seems real. Even war films, like the latest Planet of the Apes feature got in on the action with bright pink trees providing the backdrop. Horror films, like Raw and the above Dead Shack, science fiction parables like Okja and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, gross out comedies like Rough Night and The Wedding Invitation, all genres seem represented in this trendy phase.
Hat-tip to The Film Stage‘s Instagram feed for pointing out this Japanese poster for The Coen’s 1984 debut film, Blood Simple. It feels that the foggy ‘scene; pictured might have been the inspiration of a scene from P.T. Anderson’s The Master, as well as the opening shot of Green Room. And the ‘dwarfed’ police car in an indistinct landscape may have also inspired the opening shot of Fargo. The bold orange stencil type kind of chews up the negative space here with the caption “The Thriller” is probably an unintentional cultural flourish, but it kind of works. If you would like to see a more minimalist take on this design, a DeviantArt user went for the same image but maximized the minimalism, as it were. I must admit that I like the composition of the Japanese poster a wee bit more though, with the prowler off-centre.
Many of the posters for Christopher Nolan’s war-rescue picture Dunkirk have been of the super-wide banner variety. Here is a classic vertical design (and nothing gives a vertical impression than a sailboat) that emphasizes the scope and chaos through depth of field rather than panorama. There are a lot of elements and things to see here, shadows of air planes, fishermen working frantically, soldiers drowning in the water, or floating on objects. The fire offers a few flashes of colour in an otherwise desaturated ‘grim seas’ palette. It is also noteworthy that the IMAX specialty releases of films tend to be a bit more adventurous with their poster designs, probably because they are not distributed as widely.
It is a slow week for posters, large campaigns for Cars 3, Baby Driver, and The Nut Job 2 do the usual thing that character posters do. So I offer you, with out much elaboration, this Banksy street art styled anti-war propaganda poster for the new Planet of the Apes film. It is not a character poster, as there are no others released in this fashion, but it still highlights a key character in the film at the exclusion of all else. I hope to possibly see it framed in a multiplex nearby, but I have my doubts it will exist outside the internet.
It cannot be any further in design than the one below, which also has the vague notion of a character poster. This design eschews the monochrome minimalism, and goes all-in on the use of the colour pink – not a hue typically associated with this franchise, or war in general. It’s a solid piece of ‘flower child’ anti war propaganda coming from a completely different angle, and the poster itself is designed in what I call, the “Korean School” of unadorned single, well framed, photography. The pair of these posters is a really solid example that you do not need a perfectly integrated style across elements or characters for your film, just put out catchy designs, that defy expectations.
Errol Morris’s latest film portrays he friend and neighbor, portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, and her body of work which is mainly ultra-large format Polaroid portraits, both of families and of some rather famous folks too. The poster design is offbeat and unusual and a little unassuming but also kind of quietly rebellious (as is Ms. Dorfman herself.) Take the handwriting on the poster, yes, people sharpie labels on their Polaroids all the time, so there is that, but you rarely see this kind of thing on a bit of promotional material. Also, the inky roll-lines on the sides of the poster, also a part of the large format roller-driven process, but still rather striking on the edges of a movie-poster. Then there is Ms. Dorfman herself, hardly imbued with movie-star looks, yet easily able to command the frame, is her pose a display or a query or an example of her work, this is a perfect incitement into what is Morris’ most gentle and casual (albeit not lacking in rigour in the slightest!)
Having already displayed the fine posters for Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express above the their trailers earlier this week, I was thinking it might be tricky to find something this week for this column. But then along comes the French poster for Edgar Wrights Baby Driver, which has a nice innovation for solving both the ‘floating heads’ and the ‘all cast members displayed on the poster’ dilemmas of modern poster design. And the solution is delightfully simple. Have the leads, Ansel Elgort and Lily James be in their car while rolling down the window. Reflect the rest of the cast in the glass of the window. I am quite surprised that nobody has done this up to now, or at least I’ve not seen it in another poster. If you know of one, let me know.
The yellow typesetting against the metallic red of the car (as well as the stripe along the top with a pull quote) is all business, but the film’s title itself is really playful, exactly the kind of tone and balance Wright manages to strike with each picture.
This years major break-out voice in Horror (comedy) was Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Upon its original release, it was unfortunately saddled with perhaps the worst poster of the year (so far). Fortunately there is Mondo who have taken a couple key design elements and images and have made a pair of superb black and white (after all, isn’t that what the movie is about?) posters. The above poster takes the tea-cup from the film and grafts on Daniel Kaluuya to almost give it the surreal feel of a vintage Polish style poster, if you are familiar with what is going on in the movie, having a spoon ‘stir’ his brain is equally effective as an image. Dropping the credit block in the middle is also an interesting touch, who says these ‘required elements’ need be at the bottom.
A second Mondo poster featuring the ‘dark place’ from the film is solid, but nowhere near as eye-catching as the above one.
Thanks to Birth.Movies.Death for the hook-up here.