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EMOJI AVANT LA LETTRE

I’ve been asked to write a few columns for the fab magazine SCHOKKEND NIEUWS with the title OLD PAPER. The idea is to explore the history of movie poster making and the ways in which images convey meaning by picking each time a single example poster. Aim is to write something with a little depth that also might appeal to someone who is not knee-deep in posters himself. I will post a translated version every few weeks after an issue of SCHOKKEND NEWS is published.

The original column you can find HERE.

EMOJI AVANT LA LETTRE

Filmposterprofessor Wim Jansen is a little nervous. He wants to expound Eastern European posters, but they are somewhat ambiguous and his explication is rather abstract too.

Nothing divides collectors as much as Eastern European posters. On the one side of the argument are people that almost reach ecstasy when they hear the magic words ‘Polish’ or ‘Czech’, on the other side are the haters. Bone of contention is the absence of clarity of a lot of these posters. In earlier posts in OLD PAPER I wrote about the importance of a clear message and a good likeness. Clarity implies reliability. The better the perception of a natural likeness, the more reliably we perceive it. The subjectivity of an artistic interpretation damages the reliability of the image. Check with any politician and he or she will concur with that statement.

POSTER ART

Eastern European posters lack often clarity or are sometimes outright abstract. It is often stated that this is because of the designers have not seen the movie with the resulting lack of reference material. This generates probably from the assumption that western movies were not shown behind the iron curtain. This misconception is at least denied by the multiple volumes of the Czech movie magazine KINO from the 1950’s to 1970’s that I have laying around here. These are filled with reviews and critiques of all kinds of western movies. Something different was going on. Eastern European designers did not have to tempt as much customers to the cinema as possible, they were led by a cultural tradition of graphic design and poster art. That tradition was especially nursed in Poland. Competitions were held as were prestigious poster-biennales,  a poster exhibit was as usual as one of paintings.

WASILEWSKI

The designer of the featured poster is MIECZYSLAW WASILEWSKI, born in 1942 in Warszaw. Especially his work in the seventies and eighties was very minimalistic. I emailed Mr. Wasilewski if he had any memories related to the design of this particular poster and he got back to me right away. He wrote that in that period there was a great amount of creative freedom in Poland that enabled him to create a very personal interpretation of the movie. A design was to be judged by either a committee or a senior graphic designer. The poster was not meant to advertise as in the socialist society advertising was not an important issue. The only condition to be met was to reach a high artistic value. Wasilewski recalls that all his movie posters were “products of my imagination freely somehow connected with the movies.”

It’s not so strange that when looking at Wasilewski’s posters we don’t have much use for Duke Wellington, the capitalist prophet of the clear message (singleness of effect), about whom I wrote in earlier posts of OLD PAPER. There are other factors, next to a good likeness, to take in account that influences our minds when we look at images. Factors like color, depth, lighting and clarity play a part in how “true” we judge an image. Everyone that has used the filters of the Instagram app will have a sense how manipulative those factors are. Wasilewski’s poster of CRITTERS shows what great alienating effect can be created with an extreme use of color, depth, lighting and clarity.

 

HAPPY/NOT HAPPY

CRITTERS (Stephen Herek, 1986) is a science fiction-horror comedy with little monsters from outer space. They are kind of fluffy, have a lot of teeth with a mean little smile on their faces. They roll along the ground as a little ball and eat everything they encounter. On your regular Hollywood movie poster they look naughty and cheerful. Comparisons with box office smash GREMLINS (Joe Dante, 1984) were quickly made. Wasilewski, the Polish minimalist, reduces the little creatures to two black fluffy spheres. Square white dots provide an ambiguous smirk that bring a sense of eeriness. Put together with a nose and mouth that look like knife cuts in paper they resemble a kind of emoji. An emoji avant la lettre which means something like “happy/not happy”. This poster has no sense of action and has no depth. It’s a flat space from which any color has been sucked out, there’s only black and white. No gradation. No contrast. The lettering fits very well with the emoji and looks to be disassembled from an Atari computer. It’s a sterile, chilly world, this sci-fi world with it’s nasty little monsters. I think it is fair to assume that Mieczyslaw Wasilewski was not a fan of critters.

 

SOPHIA AT BRUNO’S

Just popped in BRUNO’S, former neighbor of the gallery and coffee guru. A place with fantastic coffee needs some eye candy. No better choice of course than SOPHIA LOREN to pimp the walls. And a good excuse to post this classic song once more.

KEEPING A CLEAR HEAD

I’ve been asked to write a few columns for the fab magazine SCHOKKEND NIEUWS with the title OLD PAPER. The idea is to explore the history of movie poster making and the ways in which images convey meaning by picking each time a single example poster. Aim is to write something with a little depth that also might appeal to someone who is not knee-deep in posters himself. I will post a translated version every few weeks after an issue of SCHOKKEND NEWS is published.

The original column you can find HERE.

KEEPING A CLEAR HEAD

Filmposterprofessor Wim Jansen guides us through the weird and wonderful world of filmadvertising art. Chances are you did not think about it in this post-digital snapchat era, but there was a time it was quite a thing to make a proper portrait.

More stars than there are in heaven was MGM’s claim in the 1940’s. Star power was everything and it shows in the posters of the late thirties and early forties. A nice example is this gorgeous onesheet for LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST (Walter Lang, 1936). Hollywood of the thirties was built on stars and genre productions. It was important that the public knew instantly what they were going in for. James Cagney playing not a gangster once in a while? No problem as long as that was recognized immediately. Nothing as bad for box office as wrong expectations. DUKE WELLINGTON, whose book The theory & Practice of Poster Art (1934) I introduced in my first column, does not beat about the bush: a good portrait makes 75 % of a poster and a portrait without likeness is a crime.

BALOPTICON

For that purpose Wellington prescribes the use of a projector (the so-called balopticon) for portraits sketched in paint or pencil. Photoshop did not yet exist; to work with provided materials – usually stills – was the best base for success and the balopticon the quickest and most reliable method. A free hand sketch is of course an option, but – as Duke puts it delicately – is more for the ‘artists in the true sense’. Projection enables the poster artist to build the portrait with the most important elements: eyes, nose and mouth. When the outline of the portrait is ready, the lettering can be penciled in for a good sense of proportion. Then the portrait can be finished with paint and brush. Here the use of the right tints and colors is essential for nuance and accents. In the thirties most ‘heads’ were painted in different tones of yellow and orange with some dark colors to separate the different planes and accentuate the right proportions. A portrait with great likeness is not necessarily lifelike. It’s an abstraction that transfers the essence of an actor or actress from a distance, if possible in the context of the film. Unfortunately I can’t tell you who the designer is of LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST. The final responsibility for the poster lies either with the advertising director or the art director of UNIVERSAL, respectively PHILLIP COCHRANE and KAROLY GROSZ. Intriguing detail: Grosz is also responsible for the iconic horror posters of FRANKENSTEIN (James Whale, 1931), THE MUMMY (Karl Freund, 1932) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (James Whale, 1933).

BLACK EYE

CAROLE LOMBARD (1908-1942) made her first picture aged 12. She made her breakthrough in TWENTIETH CENTURY (Howard Hawks, 1934) with a character that became her trademark. She was the sophisticated sexy blonde who knew how to walk or fall in a Travis Banton dress, perfect for screwball comedy. This one-sheet unites star and genre perfectly. Some poster enthusiasts claim that the black eye is risky for a comedy movie poster, but they are wrong. It’s the cherry on the cake. The poster would be great of course even without the black eye. It is so elegant with a fine line and sparse use of picture planes and color variation. This face is so beautiful because it is abstracted to the limit. Leave more detail out and it becomes a caricature or pin-up. Now it’s a portrait of an elegant and sexy comedic actress with a gorgeous high value of likeness. The black eye though elevates the design to even bigger heights, it’s the ultimate screwball poster. In screwball comedy the first act provides the introduction of the resolute and fiery heroin who is also a bit screwy, often in the setting of high society. In act two she will get in a fight with the leading man, who she marries in act three. Carole Lombard gets in a fight defending her man and carries the mark of a black eye as the visible proof of her love. The lettering supports the concept completely. The diagonal letters that form Lombard’s name are unconventional which suits her image. The other lettering is high society chique with the credits just right of center (screwy!). Even the logo of the studio conforms to the concept. The usual Universal logo in 1936 was a globe with big neon letters (famously moving in the leader of the movies). That’s a bit too course here.

Oh, one little thing. In the movie it is Lombards right eye that gets hit. I assume that the unknown designer of this poster has changed this out of esthetic considerations. Let’s hope that he did not put a still in the balopticon the wrong way around…

 

 

PS

A big thanks to Ed and Sue of Learnaboutmovieposters for the credits behind the poster

 

 

 

 

STING IN THE TAIL

I’ve been asked to write a few columns for the fab magazine SCHOKKEND NIEUWS with the title OLD PAPER. The idea is to explore the history of movie poster making and the ways in which images convey meaning by picking each time a single example poster. Aim is to write something with a little depth that also might appeal to someone who is not knee-deep in posters himself. I will post a translated version every few weeks after an issue of SCHOKKEND NEWS is published.

The original column you can find HERE.

STING IN THE TAIL

SCHOKKEND NIEUWS starts a new column: OLD PAPER. Filmposterprofessor Wim Jansen guides us through the weird and wonderful world of filmadvertising art. What makes an interesting poster? This time: big is not always better.

Looked for it for about six years, but then I found it: a reprint edition of The Theory and Practice of Poster Art by Duke Wellington. In this book, originally from 1934, you can find everything what a starting poster designer should know. Theory and Practice will be a recurring theme in Old Paper.

Wellington started out as a painter of advertising boards for circuses and stumbled into film advertising through the NEWMAN THEATRE in Kansas City – one of those baroque movie palaces of the 1920’s. A few years later he became the chief of the art department of the Publix Theatres Corporation in New York. He wrote Theatre and Practice after he started his own agency. According to Wellington film advertising starts and ends with singleness of effect. A well-designed poster imprints a single message in the brain of the viewer. For that effect a poster design consists of two large areas of dark and light with only a handful of objects that are shown as big as possible. More objects or small objects will distract.

SHREWS

A good example of Wellington’s theory is one of my favorite posters, the halfsheet for THE KILLER SHREWS. THE KILLER SHREWS is a low-budget monster movie, directed by Ray Kellogg. In those days filmmakers experimented merrily with the possible effects of radiation or genetic manipulation. In 1959 almost every living creature on God’s green earth was pumped up to massive size on celluloid, so why not a shrew?

At the end of the 1950’s the Hollywood studio system had crumbled. This opened the way for independent film production. All kinds of beginners, amateurs and opportunists could now make a movie with little money and get it distributed in movie theatres or drive-ins as well. The rise of the Z-movie had started. KILLER SHREWS is one of such movies. It was shot somewhere outside Dallas, Texas. Actor Ken Curtis (who became famous as sidekick Festus in the television series Gunsmoke) and radioman Gordon McLendon (attributed to broadcast the first live traffic report in the USA) produced the movie with a small budget. Both men also played a part in the movie and shot at the same time another Z-classic, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER.

The low budget and limited time to produce the movie were disastrous for the quality of the special effects, but not for a successful advertising campagne. The initial investment of $ 123,000– paid back tenfold.

HALFSHEET

Halfsheets like these measure about 22 inches high and 28 inches wide and are printed on cardstock. Movie theatres use to have special lobby displays for this size. The viewing public could look at the posters up close and at eye level. Sometimes this resulted in rather boring movie paper, for example posters with a lot of explanatory text or just two heads with the names of the stars and nothing else. Due to the landscape format of the poster it fills up quickly and it offers less depth than the portrait format.

The KILLER SHREWS halfsheet is special, because it toys with monster movie cliches. In 1959 the average Joe Public was bombarded with the KING KONG-effect and had seen loads of spiders, ants or other small pests or beasts towering above him with the warning shout “GET OUT OF THE WAY, MONSTER INCOMING!”  The (unfortunately anonymous) designer of the KILLER SHREWS halfsheet found singleness of effect in a more subtle way by literally choosing the tail end of the plot.

 

The KILLER SHREWS halfsheet (22x28")

The KILLER SHREWS halfsheet (22×28″)

The poster is, as Wellington laid down, divided in two large areas on top of each other. This gives a sense of depth that enables the four defining objects to be large and visible. The upper area is dark, the lower area is light. These areas are green being the colour of horror. In the green areas there’s a kind of rebus of three very colourful objects: purple tail + red pool of blood + pink ladies pump. A shrew itself is not the scariest animal in the world. It’s basically a lot of fur with two small, beady eyes. To inflate such an animal to monster proportions is less effective than say an eight-legged spider or a praying mantis. To show just the tail has much more threatening effect. The tail is draped delicately across the full width of the poster. The blood is red and looks fresh. The pink pump symbolizes youth and sex. The answer to the rebus is written above it in straight, simple and neutral white lettering: “All that was left after…” and than the title in free, more genre specific, lettering: THE KILLER SHREWS.

The message is clear. We are too late. No use shouting out a warning.

 

 

AMSTERDAMNED 2016 Starts Today

Quick post! Today starts AMSTERDAMNED 2016 in Kriterion. AMSTERDAMNED 2016 is a new 3-day genrefestival organized by old friend Jan “Mister Horror” Doense. The festival kicks off with a 28th year celebration of cult classic AMSTERDAMNED directed by Dick Maas. I put up a few posters from both Mr. Horror’s collection and mine. It’s nice! Have a look and watch a few movies while you’re there!

 

AMSTERDAMNED 2016!

AMSTERDAMNED 2016!

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THAT’S IT, NO MORE INK.

Yes, my good friend Dave Navarro could not have said it better. Today is the last day MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM is open at the Palmdwarsstraat. The archives and most of the collection are already moved. It’s a question of clearing up and out now. If you have pressing poster needs today is the day to get a bargain. From tomorrow onwards it will be “by appointment only” at my new address at the Zwanenburgwal 92.

Maybe I see you there sometime.

MOVING ON BUT DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER

Although there’s a teeny-weeny chance I might extend my stay at the Palmdwarsstraat I’m making a move. As chances are slim amyways I had to find at least a place to store the collection and archive. I found something in the center of Amsterdam which makes it possible to do some trade albeit by appointment only. Alas for exhibits I have to explore other avenues. Leaving the Palmdwarsstraat means I have to cut short these activities for the moment.

Even worse news, CINE QUA NON in the Staalstraat is having its closing party today for the very worst reasons as my dear friend Eric is in seriously bad health. So Amsterdam has no movie paper showplaces anymore. And to make matters worse I heard the news that the ever helpful and boisterous Adrian Cowdry ended his own life.

Fortunately there’s joy even in the worst of times. I’ve been sweating on my second column on movie posters for the magazine SCHOKKEND NIEUWS – get your subscription here -. The first piece is published last month. I will post a translated version on the blog when the next issue of SN is on sale.

Next week Saturday September 17th it’s the London Film Convention at Westminster where I will show off part of my latest pleasure. My good friend, filmmaker and former journalist Thijs Ockersen visited in the early 1970’s the sets of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and DRACULA AD 1972 and took the opportunity to take some rare behind the scene photographs. More details on these events in a later post.

As it is now 45 years ago that DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was made I’ve selected 4 shots of Thijs’ negatives for an exclusive printing. The prints are 30×40 centimeter and individually handprinted by the awesome SILVER-HANDS, one of the last remaining maverick craftsmen. We make 10 sets of 4 prints that are signed by photographer Thijs Ockersen. I will have one set with me in London.

So, do yourself a favor and visit the MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM set-up at Westminster. Hope to see you there or maybe sometime somewhere else.

Wim from MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM

PS The still in the header of this post is an enlargement of a handheld mobile phone shot of a contact sheet. The deluxe set is extremely crisp and sharp I assure you.

GO JOHNNY GO! – MOVIE INK. CLOSED THIS WEEKEND

Well it’s Billy really and he’s gone already. Gone to Terschelling for the 25 year anniversary of HEARTBREAK HOTEL. There will be music and much rejoicing with old friends, I’ll even blurt out a few songs myself. It’s gonna be something, so I’m not back before Monday.

Have a great weekend and never forget that:

Wim (once more Love Burning’ Billy, but for the weekend only)

MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM AT BRUSSELS FILMFESTIVAL

This Sunday (June 19th) we will attend the fair at the Brussels Filmfestival in the Batiment Flagey at St. Croix Place. Here’s some more info. We will have our regular stuff of posters and stills. Join us if you are in the area! We will travel Saturday to pick up some of the atmosphere of the festival and Belgium’s match against Ireland. That means we will close up shop early at 4 PM this Saturday.

MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM GALLERY CLOSES in PALMDWARSSTRAAT

It was in the air for a while, but now it’s inescapable. MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM will have to close at the Palmdwarsstraat 40. After losing (apparently literally) a few million euros the Council of Amsterdam decided to reduce the deficit by selling property rented out to small creatives. I don’t want to be too spiteful here, but i have to say the procedure was shameful, leaving the tenants in the dark for as long as possible. In the end we were not given a decent chance to acquire the property ourselves not getting the opportunity for first or even equalizing bid. I put up a bid that was close to uncomfortable, but turned out to be chancenlos. There’s no stopping big money.

Anyway time to rethink and refocus, but first to relocate. I will be busy finding alternative space, but don’t expect to return soon with a set up similar to the current gallery. I don’t have a leave date yet, so MIA will stay open for a few months, but you will have to excuse me for not doing exhibits n the near future. Events have caused a lack of my usual vim and vigour.

Is this the end of Rico?

Wim

MOVIE INK. AMSTERDAM

 

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