Just had to post quickly, while wading through a pile of marking (I’m easily distracted), to draw your attention to an amazing set of Polish film posters at Wellmedicated. This was posted last year, and I noticed it while browsing through the wonderful collection of cinematic arcana at Popcorn and Sticky Floors. Everyone loves Polish film posters, right? They represent an artistic, idiosyncratic approach to the job of making an immediately recognisable summary of a film’s major themes in a single image. They contrast nicely with the usual approach that crams in as many famous faces and sexy bodies into a single frame as possible. But there’s something deliciously perverse about them, as if the artists have gone off piste and produced their own subversive readings of the films that might work against the tone of the original marketing drive. How else might we explain the dark dual image of this bit of publicity for Paul Hogan’s amiable and inconsequential Crocodile Dundee 2:
And in which parallel universe does Weekend at Bernie’s deserve such a beautifully macabre ad campaign:
During the communist era (1945-1989), distributors would commission graphic designers to produce eye-catching images instead of using the posters sent by the foreign distributors. One commentator on the Wellmedicated site notes that film posters were not monitored by the authorities, and artists often smuggled in political commentary, which might explain the prevalence of fragmented, masked or otherwise brutalised faces.
I could fill up a lot of space with these things, but if you want to see more, there are larger galleries here and here. The Outland Institute has a quiz that asks you to guess the film from the poster. As well as an excellent essay here, there’s an article about posters at Write on Film, whose author cites an online article by Anna Husarska which appears now to have been removed, so hopefully it’s OK if I reproduce it third hand, since it explains why the posters developed in this form:
“It was the result of a particularly felicitous combination of factors. First, the totalitarian state with unlimited funds at its disposal turned out to be a very good patron. Second, given the general shortages of everything from toilet paper to washing machines, posters weren’t really about advertising, they were art for art’s sake. Third, the primitive state of printing techniques precluded any easy, conventional use of photographs, so the artists were obliged to be more creative. The isolation from the artistic currents in the West was an advantage, too: Polish artists had to follow their own, original path. And because in Poland there was no art market to speak of (art dealers were considered ‘rotten bourgeois’), poster-making offered one of the few opportunities for artists and designers to practice their profession.”
I’m especially drawn to the monster stuff, which seems to be very appropriate for these scratchy, mischievous pictures. The rudimentary simplicity of Critters is well matched by this bit of minimalism, followed by a rather cute and plaintive Son of Godzilla:
If the poster is the first point of contact you get with a film, preparing you for its tone and content, theme and attitude, are these designs doing that job, or are they paving the way for counter-readings of the film? Does the poster above want you to find a horrific morbidity in Weekend at Bernie’s, and thus come to interpret the sad and sinister sense of waste that lies at the core of such cynically manufactured trash, or is it just setting you up for the big disappointment that comes from the realisation that something has been mis-sold to you?