Independent film magazine Little White Lies are marking the 65th Cannes Film Festival by holding an exhibition with Paris based gallery and retailer, colette, to pay tribute to the art of the film poster. The exhibition will be held between May 7th and June 2nd in colette’s flagship store in Paris. The exhibition will feature 27 limited edition prints that reinterpret iconic films of the past into exciting new posters. A limited run of 70 prints are also available online from here.
“The Polish artists were often unable to view the films prior to making their posters, so they are often literal interpretations of the title.”
There has been a resurgence of online interest in film posters in recent years, particularly around the incredible posters produced away from the official channels of the Hollywood marketing machine. Many of the most notable originate from communist era Poland where original publicity material was hard to come by. Polish artists and graphic designers took up the mantle and began creating beautifully abstract and surreal posters for the latest imports from the US and other western nations. The most significant effect this had was that the designers could feature abstract concepts or motifs of aesthetic worth rather than being required to ‘sell’ the film. This moved poster design from the realm of distribution to exhibition and spectatorship. The posters became inherently individual as they are the artist’s response to the film rather than the industry’s presentation of the film.
Film industries, such as Hollywood, circulate and promote a narrative image of any film that they release. The aim of this narrative image is to provide a response to questions like ‘what is the film like?’ or ‘what is the film about?’ for people who haven’t seen the film. Posters, stills and trailers all function to create an understanding of the film in wider culture. Audiences decide if they want to watch the film by using genre, stars, storyline, and directors as criteria against their understanding of the film. This narrative image is interesting because it is the property of the industry. It is there to make as many people as possible see the film and to get the right sort of audiences, e.g. horror fans, to go. The Polish posters highlight how this process of narrative image creation does not have to be the sole purpose of the poster. The Polish artists were often unable to view the films prior to making their posters, so they are often literal interpretations of the title. The poster’s primary function is to be aesthetically pleasing, rather than a part of the narrative image creation process.
“They appeal to the film’s fans who can display their intimate knowledge through the posters.”
Contemporary Polish studio Homework are just one group that take inspiration from the communist era artists. Their posters are even further removed from the marketing departments because their posters look back at the canonical films of cinema history. They do little to form a narrative image, rather they appeal to the audience member who is already familiar with the films.
These contemporary fan posters often focus on objects, themes, moments, or ideas within the film that are only understood by those that have seen the film. They therefore appeal to the film’s fans who can display their intimate knowledge through the posters. Possibly more significant is the fact that owning one of these posters aids the sense of ownership over the film itself and increases the sense of a relationship between the fan and the film. Art collectors can purchase the original artwork, but film lovers can only purchase mass-produced copies of the original which will be stored in studio vaults and archives. Objects like these posters provide secondary artworks that are imbued with the imagery and symbolism of the films they represent. In other words, to own one of these posters is to say that you reject the narrative image and see the film in your own terms.
“What they all manage to do is distinguish the films from being just another product of an industry and highlight the personal relationships that audience members can have with cinema.”
This trend also coincides with increased interest in the sale of illustrations and graphic art. Modern galleries like Beach London offer a space which acts as a gallery and shop. In a culture where original artworks are out of reach for most people but images act as cultural capital in the digital world, illustrations and screen prints are a very attractive middle ground. They are affordable artworks that are self-consciously non-conformist and capitalize on the proliferation of online visual culture. These reworkings of film posters fall into this category as they are often heavily blogged about but also available for purchase in real life.
The Little White Lies and colette collaboration formalised this process by commissioning artists to create their own posters. Some focus on capturing the tone or mood of the film, others focus on individual characters, and some attempt to summarise the entire film in one image. What they all manage to do is distinguish the films from being just another product of an industry and highlight the personal relationships that audience members can have with cinema.