Picture of the Week #44: Brandon Schaefer’s Film Posters

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I keep coming across excellent fan-made (help me out in the search for a better term for it than that!) posters, and this week I direct your attention towards Brandon Schaefer’s collection of images, which you can find at his website or on his Flickr pages. Some great, unusual choices, but also some original takes on well-known favourites like Ghostbusters and Tron.

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Picture of the Week #34: Twenty Monster Movie Posters

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This week, your pictorial reward is a bunch of monster-themed posters from my collection of poster JPEGs. Next week, you can look forward to sexy-themed (to use the scientific term) posters for your delectation, followed by comic and heroic posters. The week after that, I’m open to suggestions for a theme – I have quite a lot of posters to display, and not enough picture-of-the-week spaces to put them in. I hope you enjoy the scenery of these garish, trashy marvels. Check on the slideshow above, or browse below for larger views of any of the pics.

Picture of the Week #29: Film the Blanks

It’s gone a bit quiet over there lately, but the archive is still available for Film the Blanks, an ongoing project to reduce famous film posters to their most basic elements. It’s usually a guessing game that lets people try and identify the film (you can probably spot The Deer Hunter in the image above), but actually it reveals the graphical simplicity and strength of some of the techniques used to flog you a movie. See more at the Film the Blanks website.


Jurassic Park Spacesick Version

I’ve neglected this blog for over a week. I know that the blogosphere is very forgiving of these kinds of things, but I like to refresh things around here regularly. I’ve been in an essay-marking frenzy te last couple of weeks. Nearly finished now, but it’s knocked me out of my regular blogging schedule, and I’m suffering from mild withdrawal symptoms. It’s been over a week since I emptied my brain into cyberspace. I’ll make up for it next week, but in the meantime I thought I’d change the scenery with a decorative post drawing your attention to something lovely you might like to look at. These pictures are from Spacesick‘s Flickr set of spoof covers for retro novelisations of movies including Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Batman, Gremlins, Splash and, er… Ghost Dad. The fondness for the 1980s as some sort of lovable memory-bank is noteworthy – it seems to be a popular era for retro design and nostalgic recovery.

Batman Spacesick VersionDawn of the Dead Spacesick Version

It seems Spacesick (Mitch Ansara) was inspired by the work of Olly Moss, whose reimagined movie posters I mentioned here in February. Anyway, take a look at the complete set, which has given me a great excuse to put something much cooler at the top of the page on Spectacular Attractions this week. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Ghostbusters Spacesick Version

King Kong Escapes

King Kong Escapes

A little while ago I posted about Polish film posters, idiosyncratic reductions of films into deceptively simple iconography. They often changed the tone that the advertisers might have wanted to convey. While searching for something else, I just stumbled across this Polish poster for 1968’s King Kong Escapes! (released in its native Japan as King Kong no Gyakushū) at an excellent website, Wrong Side of the Art. It’s a sinister, imposing beauty, miles away from the bright monster squabbles of the film itself and other posters. Check out the US release poster, with its rash promises of gargantuan spectacle, reassuring you that there will be a fight between a big ape and his robot clone (in case you were worried). It’s like a Wrestlemania poster, but with more believable characters – the draw for the potential audience is in finding out who wins the battle:

King Kong Escapes US Poster 1968

This from the New York Times review from 11th July 1968:

The Toho moviemakers are quite good in building miniature sets, but much of the process photography—matching the miniatures with the full-scale shots—is just bad. The English language dialogue that comes out of the mouths of the Japanese actors could well be Urdu, and the plotting is hopelessly primitive, although it is littered with found symbols, most of which have to do with a (perhaps Hiroshima-inspired) national death wish.

Really unforgivable, however, is what has been done to King Kong himself. The great, dignified, 80-foot ape-hero of the 1934 Hollywood classic has been turned into a spineless, grovelling Uncle Tom in the community of prehistoric beasts. At the direction of the simpering blonde heroine, he destroys the world domination plans of some Chinese Communist agents, pining all the while for a love that—for quite obvious reasons—cannot be.

I haven’t seen King Kong Escapes since I was maybe eight years old, and even that recollection is a hazy one: how am I supposed to remember which big-ape smackdown I was enthralled by after all these years? But the Polish poster speaks to my memory of it, with Kong as a pathetic figure hunched over from the pain and stress of being a big monster in a little-people world, instead of the second poster’s depiction of a prize-fighting badass. But this may be a product of my fallible memory, or a willful reconstruction of the film in my mind that makes it seem like it resembled the poster I admire more. Movie posters are usually designed to pre-fabricate the film n our minds, to incite expctations or hide deficiencies or show unresolved events which, it is promised, will be resolved during the film itself (who will win that fight, for instance?). But, like other forms of merchandise and publicity material, they might also help us to (mis-)remember a film, or to rebuild gaps in the narrative with our own imagination or preferred interpretation. There’s only one way to test the reliability or otherwise of my recollections – I’ve just ordered DVDs of King Kong vs Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. I’ll treat myself to a kaiju eiga double bill over the Easter break, and report back to readers of Spectacular Attractions in due course.

Polish Film Posters


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?

Jackie and Woolly: Was it Worth it?

This is not a personal blog. If it was, I’d be telling you about the shoes I bought the other day, or what I ate for dinner last night (in case you’re interested, the shoes don’t fit properly, and I had seafood pasta). Or something like that. I’m not going to write about that stuff here, but you’ll probably be able to tell quite a lot about me from the fact that one of the most distressing sights I’ve seen in the last fortnight is Jackie Chan’s appearance in the latest Woolworths ad.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not naïve enough to be surprised that movie stars take the corporate quid and lower themselves to some publicity whoredom, but this one hurts a bit. Jackie Chan was a hero of mine in my younger years, and was probably as instrumental in getting me interested in international cinema as Godard or Ozu ever were (Police Story and Tokyo Story hit me with equal force around the same time). For a couple of years I’ve had a plan for a book-length study of Chan’s films, incorporating a close formal analysis of some key fight scenes. It’s long overdue, and might remain nothing more than a back-burning pet project for some years to come, partly because writing about Drunken Master doesn’t seem like a short cut to credibility for an early career academic. Whatever else I became fascinated by cinematically, Chan’s career was always worth following, either for a window into the workings of a foreign star system, or for a steady stream of astonishing action sequences. At its best, his fight choreography delivers a kinetic thrill that is hard to find in other action films. Even his lesser films (I have serious issues with almost everything he’s made since Drunken Master II) contained moments of inspired and inventive physical agility or a severely risky stunt or tightly-rehearsed bit of business. In the resolutely lightweight Around the World in 80 Days (2004), a fight in an artist’s studio descends into a mess of coloured paint that coheres when a series of misplaced blows leave a vibrant impressionist painting on a bystanding canvas. It’s a lovely moment of clarity in an otherwise shaky film, and a neat summary of Chan’s persistent amusement at the way screen violence is only ever one derealised step away from slapstick comedy.

It was exciting to watch him falling from a clock tower in Project A (1983) or re-creating Buster Keaton’s falling house stunt in, er … Project A II, but that frenetic eagerness to please, sometimes reinforced by rubber-faced gurning, was occasionally discomfiting – I was, after all, watching a man risk a serious maiming for my entertainment. Chan’s fearless/reckless willingness to take a high fall, heavy blow or near miss for the team is precisely what has been used to market him abroad and differentiate him from American action stars. Consider, for example, the US release poster for his Western breakthrough film Rumble in the Bronx (1995), with its tagline “No Fear. No Stuntman. No Equal.”

It’s certainly true that, along with the remarkable rhythmic structure of his action scenes (maybe I’ll blog more about that at a later date), this element of physical danger is what has made Chan’s films distinctive, so it’s saddening to see that extraordinary physicality, which so succinctly visualises questions of filmic authenticity and embodiment, appropriated to sell some dirt-cheap kids’ clothes.

Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Chan has appeared in an advert. He’s no stranger to it, having sold a lot of Pepsi, Hanes T-shirts, Kirin Beer, Visa Cards, Ultra Flex Garbage Bags, and maintained a 30-plus year association with Mitsubishi that has required him to incorporate their wonderful, wonderful automobiles into his films at every opportunity. And this is not subtle product placement. In Wheels on Meals, a car chase is halted to allow a woman to berate the other drivers. With the Mitsubishi logo in the foreground, she complains that she’d be dead if she wasn’t driving such a great sportscar, then gets in and drives off.

I suppose the Jackie Chan Woolworths ad just took me aback because of the incongruous pairing of one of the world’s most bankable film stars with one of Britain’s ailing high street chains, so it was a bit like seeing Gregory Peck schilling for Happy Shopper, or Catherine Deneuve pretending she uses Head and Shoulders. The ad also features a tired old parody of badly-dubbed “chop-socky” movies and an even stupider Karate Kid gag. To watch Chan play into a creaky cultural stereotype for the benefit of an audience whose interest in martial arts cinema begins and ends with “wax on, wax off” is surely something to sigh about.

Having said all this, I’d still rather see Jackie do a couple more appearances with Woolly and Worth than make another movie with Chris Tucker…