The Daily Notebook
Movie Poster of the Week: “Kiss of the Damned” and the Top Ten Favorite Posters of Designer Akiko Stehrenberger
This beautiful poster for Xan Cassavetes’s vampire yarn Kiss of the Damned, which opens in theaters today, was designed and illustrated by Akiko Stehrenberger, whom I interviewed in 2010 after having selected her Funny Games poster as my favorite movie poster of the last decade.
I asked Akiko recently if she would choose ten of her all-time favorite posters to share with us, to give us an idea of her influences and aesthetic leanings, but first of all we spoke about the inspiration behind this delightfully retro poster. She told me how she was definitely inspired by the work of the great American poster illustrator Bob Peak (1927-1992).
“I took notes from his Petulia and Funny Girl, where things fall away to white and become a simplified graphic element. This falling away to white technique, I also incorporate into my own personal portrait work.”
“I also took a big lead from this 1970 Dorian Gray poster by Ted Coconis. Since Kiss of the Damned felt very late 60s and 70s influenced, and the main characters struggled with their inner demons, I felt it would be a good fit to touch on this duality in an interesting way.”
A commenter on Twitter also noted an influence of the 1969 poster for The Illustrated Man by Ferrini.
Akiko said that a version of that poster almost made her Top Ten and that she had had an understandably hard time winnowing her favorites down to just ten.
Her choices are presented in alphabetical order, but it makes sense to start where we do because, when Akiko was invited to speak on a movie poster panel at SXSW in 2011, the panelists were asked to bring along one poster of their own that they were most proud of, and one poster by another designer that they loved. And this was the poster she chose:
JAPANESE POSTER FOR APOCALYPSE NOW
(Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1979) designed by Eiko Ishioka with artwork by Harou Takino
“I love how the illustrator created a beautiful and surreal painting based off just the one scene where Robert Duvall says ‘Charlie Don't Surf.’ Its beauty lies in the painting technique and the composition which takes great advantage of the horizontal format. Starting at the right top corner with the helicopters, your eye can't help but follow the swoop of the wave that leads you to the title in the bottom right corner. Everything is so well considered design-wise even to where the surfer is a second read although perfectly centered.” [Click on the image to see in all its glory.]
1988 POLISH RE-RELEASE POSTER FOR BLOW-UP
(Michelangelo Antonioni, UK/Italy, 1966) designed by Waldemar Swierzy.
“I love this version of Blow Up, because I can’t imagine the process of the artist figuring this out in the pre-digital age. I'm a big fan of Polish posters because they're experimental and intriguing. Even if I don't understand the concept, the technique draws me in to want to. As a whole, Polish posters influenced me heavily because of their hand-done, almost naive unpolished look. I like seeing the hand behind the art, happy accidents and all.”
US ONE SHEET FOR DOWNHILL RACER
(Michael Ritchie, USA, 1969) designed by Stephen Frankfurt/Philip Gips.
“I've always loved the clever use of negative space, the torn paper technique, and the fact that it wasn’t crucial to have Robert Redford’s clear likeness in the poster.”
US ONE SHEET FOR KALEIDOSCOPE
(Jack Smight, UK, 1966) designed by Bob Peak.
“There are too many Bob Peak posters to chose from because I look up to him the most out of all movie poster illustrators/designers. I chose this poster because not too many people know about it. I love his curation of photo with illustration and his use of color.
“In general, I admire that Bob Peak’s work was stylistically versatile. He could go feminine or masculine, could adapt to different genres rather than pushing a signature style every time, but still maintained a distinct point of view. I find this a big influence in my work as my approaches differ per project, but I hope there’s an invisible linear thread between them all. Since I am both an art director and illustrator, it’s important to determine which style is appropriate because this communicates just as much as the actual content. Sometimes the illustration style is the concept. As much as we movie poster designers love to push art into a poster, we still have to be respectful to the marketing. It’s important to sell the film appropriately first before trying to push one's own style, or else we aren't doing our job adequately.”
FRENCH GRANDE FOR LOLITA
(Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1962), designer uncredited, based on a photograph by Bert Stern.
“The simple clash of Sue Lyon’s sexy look with a little girl's lollipop gives you the gist of the film without hitting you over the head. I am not quite certain whether this poster is an illustration or a heavily techniqued photo*, but that’s what I love most about it.” [*I always wondered exactly the same thing about Akiko’s Funny Games poster until she set the record straight.]
UK POSTER FOR THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
(Nicolas Roeg, UK/USA, 1976). Artist uncredited.
“I am biased because I grew up loving David Bowie, especially from this era. I love how the painting technique has variations from an opaque to a more watered down gouache approach. I try to achieve these looks when I work with acrylic.”
US ONE SHEET FOR PALE RIDER
(Clint Eastwood, USA, 1985). Artwork by C. Michael Dudash.
“I like how beautifully executed this is because of its watered down gouache technique, the monochromatic dust-like color without feeling dirty, and its sparse composition.”
GERMAN POSTER FOR PICKPOCKET
(Robert Bresson, France, 1959) by Hans Hillmann.
“It made me think it was the point of view from the inside of a pocket. Now that I really look at it, it really could just be a hand between two people. Regardless, I admire the concept and the layout’s simplicity.”
US ONE SHEET FOR STRAW DOGS
(Sam Peckinpah, USA/UK, 1971), designer uncredited.
“I think at one point every designer has tried to do something like this. I tried to do this for my unused version of The U.S. vs John Lennon when I first started in my movie poster career. I put real flowers where his glasses were over a photo. But after Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself directly ripped off Straw Dogs, and the remake of Straw Dogs did a bad version of it, any attempts at doing something too similar can officially be put to rest.”
UK QUAD FOR YELLOW SUBMARINE
(George Dunning, UK, 1968) by Heinz Edelmann.
“I love psychedelic art from the 60s and 70s. Yellow Submarine had to have been an illustrator's dream come true. Whenever I feel something too colorful can look too tooty fruity, I remind myself of how wonderfully Heinz Edelmann, Peter Max, and Milton Glaser utilized color.”
Many, many thanks to Akiko. You can see more of her own work on her website.
In Paradise: Love, the first part of a trilogy of films by Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, the camera is entirely presentational. It says: here is this! The story is of a female tourist (Margarethe Tiesel) who travels to Kenya and very quickly, whether by original intent or not, begins to look not for a quick lay but for something like “love” among the readily available population of male prostitutes. What is before the camera is like documentary: all real locals, real spaces and practices—all research. The rest, of course, is fiction, and it is the fiction which addresses us like so: let me show you this! Nearly every shot exists with an originator: we see how we get to a place, and that place is always a something. It is an excitable filmmaking, one suffuse with its enjoyment of delivering discovery.
Of the story itself—of, basically, a sex tourist, of what the local population hounds tourists for and asks of them (seen, of course, from the tourist's point of view), and what a tourist asks of them, of the ironies, hypocrisies and blindnesses of the trade—little is surprising or risky, and indeed the revelations proceed as if practically a genre itself, films of 21st century sex tourism. The initial surprise of the local offerings, the laughing dismissal yet growing curiosity of the tourist, the transactional nature of everything, even of the cinema shot, where almost no shot exists without a point of view dialog between the tourist and a local (even if the audience, observant to ironies, stands in for that local), all is what one would imagine of such a story. This mix between the expected or conventional and continual discoveries of the style lends for a remarkably discomfiting film, an awkwardness or conflict presented often scene by scene, a clash not just from the narrative drama but even of the staging of the drama, this kind of story shot where it is with these people, on "location" and "real." It makes the very idea of tourism and even of filming tourism as something awkward, unnatural, compromised and conflicted.
It is Seidl's filmmaking, not the story, that constitutes the discovery, the presentation of spaces, real but framed wholly, with geometric precision, as if parceled out, each an element unto itself with its own key observations: the symmetry of sunbathers, the line in the sand dividing a resort from the local population and an apartment into rooms, the intrusion of live monkeys into a staged shot, the deep purple of Kenyan twilight (captured in 35mm), the image of a sleeping odalisque, of the supposedly ugly, overweight and old Austrian tourist instead a thing of extreme beauty.
All is as if the world is a whole and is contiguous, but each parcel, despite leading to another, is also a thing, discoverable, containable, remarkable and fact-filled, situation and location based, textured by color, geometry, and light. One shot of Tiesel at her hotel uses the black and white painting of a leopard above her bed to pull out the black and white grid of the bed's wicker headboard; a later shot from the same angle has taken a step back and instead pulls out the pink of the bed's curtains by revealing, quietly, the pink in wallpaper unseen in the previous shot. Here, each shot tells a story, silent cinema style, and Seidl's cinema resembles the railroad-like cinema construction of the silents. Yet he is not just presentational; this presentation confronts, each parcel is almost like an accusation, hovering between a declaration and a challenge. Kept in check by Tiesel's marvelous performance, by turns purposefully naïve as a tourist yet funnily canny and clever when flirtatious, when she attempts to get past the prostitution and force a human relationship from the exchange—especially in a terrific sequence where she teachs her “beach boy” subtleties of German grammar and how to softly stroke not two breasts but one—the confrontations of Paradise: Love are never attacks, stunts or gimmicks. All seem rooted in a reality fairly intruded upon, packaged, connected, opened up but intentionally directed, assembled and delivered.
Strangely, it all seems fair, a middle ground between things, like with Herzog, pushing for a more immediate, brutal truth, uncomfortable but grounded. This duality is also what Herzog gets at, compromising reality for a purpose, rooting fiction in facts, making you aware of a blended line between two worlds; that is Herzog's synthesis. Paradise: Love is not after synthesis: Seidl's story is smooth but the intrusion on the world he has chosen to explore (or burden his film with) does nothing less than confront that difficult line, a formal strategy that pulses out into the surrounding story material as this sense of discovery and confrontation, re-activating the expected and electrifying it.
Masters of Cinema have kindly released L'assassin habite... au 21 (The Murderer Lives at... 21) on DVD. This, the directorial debut of Henri-Georges Clouzot, has never been an easy film to see in English-speaking territories. It's often dismissed a a minor effort, perhaps because of it's light-hearted tone, and because it's a more conventional whodunnit investigation than the more twisty and twisted later thrillers.
The stars are Pierre Fresnay (later hero of Le corbeau) and Suzy Delair (later heroine of Quai des Orfèvres, and Clouzot's mistress), playing a brilliant police inspector and his actress girlfriend. Suave Fresnay and blousy Delair would also play these roles in a sequel, Le dernier des six, scripted by Clouzot but not directed by him. It's not as good as this one but as a greedy swine I can't help wish that it could have been included as an extra on the disc.
There's been a series of robbery-murders, committed with a sword-cane, and with a calling-card marked "Durand" left on each victim's body. The authorities are baffled (and, as always in Clouzot, incompetent and interested more in saving face than doing their jobs), so the solution falls to Inspector Wencenslas, who traces the killer to a boarding house (No. 21) and moves in, disguised as a curate. Then his girlfriend, convinced she can become a celebrity and advance her stage career by helping crack the case, moves in too.
Nearly all Clouzot's best films revolve around little institutions which serve as microcosms of society: not just French society, but human society in general. A school, a sanatorium, a small town, a hotel. Children are always little bastards, the wellspring of human evil: it's no accident that the children playing in the street at the end of Le corbeau reappear a continent away at the start of The Wages of Fear, now playing with scorpions, nor that the same image opens Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Here, the final solution to the mystery lies in the schoolyard, but it would be unfair to say more.
Several players from Clouzot's stock company of surly and bedraggled geezers make their debuts for the director here, and illness, never far away in this director's vision of the world, first formed as he rested in a TB sanatorium, rears its head in the form of a blind ex-boxer, Kid Robert.
So there's lots for the Clouzot fan to appreciate thematically and in terms of witty script and plotting, as well as nimble playing. Clouzot also opens with a subjective camera killing that may be the first of its kind, unless I'm forgetting something major: we prowl after our intended prey, draw our weapon and let him have it. Even in lightweight fare, creepy Clouzot likes to implicate the audience. The device of course has the additional benefit of concealing the murderer's identity: where Fritz Lang kept Peter Lorre as a malign offscreen presence by showing only his shadow during his introductory scene in M, Clouzot achieves the same goal by planting his lens inside the head of a killer.
The movie, made during the occupation, makes no reference to the Germans or the war, taking place in a genre, the detective story, rather than in a real society, and unlike Le corbeau it doesn't lend itself to easy allegorical readings. But its director's bracing, mordant view of human nature is still in evidence, and the fun has an agreeably acrid tang.
The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.
On the occasion of BAM's screening of Straub-Huillet's Class Relations on May 1 for International Workers' Day, a text on the film by infrequently translated French writer-critic Louis Seguin.
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are afraid of nothing. To use as a title, in 1984, for an adaptation of Amerika, those “class relations” whose conception figures so prominently in The German Ideology is tantamount to either obliviousness or provocation. There’s nothing more absurd or more obsolete than being stuck in the past with these rapprochements that were already out of fashion ten years ago. Is it not understood, within the very small world of film criticism, that Marx—once more but for good, for the last time—is definitively forgotten, buried, and that any allusion, any reference to him will only provoke one of those smiles mixing the respect we owe saints of the recent past and the pitiable irony such vain perseverance calls forth?
Where are they coming from, then, Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub? Do they not see that they’re creating a disturbance? That their idea of bringing together Marx and Kafka can only bring back angry memories? It was in the name of Marxism-Leninism, over thirty years ago, that the Stalinists—the future “liberal” of the Central Committee, [Jean] Kanapa, in the first row of the squadron—opened “fire” on this “decadence” that the anxiety of The Trial and The Castle illustrated in such an exemplary fashion. What’s the point of stirring up cold ashes, even in order to light a counter-fire? Haven’t we already said enough? Why deliberately put oneself in the really difficult situation of the unwelcome archaeologist, the tiresome mouthpiece of old-fashioned sayings? Nothing more annoying than this obstinacy, more diabolical than this perseverance, more boring than this will to repeat—in the face of all liquidation, in the face of the rampant dogmatism about correct usage—that we aren’t quite finished with classes and that it is still necessary to take account of their “relations,” if not—the one following the other—of their “struggle.” Does Kafka really have everything to lose to this confrontation?
Something, effectively, disappears in Class Relations. It is the evidence of this fog into which “readings” of Kafka necessarily sink, this murky, indecisive, “absurd,” “Kafkian” universe. There's no longer a question of passing through the tunnel of “existential” condescension. Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet have finished with that “surveying of a divinity devoid of surface,” that Camus talks about at the end of The Myth of Sisyphus.1 They voluntarily deprive themselves of all the resources of morality and psychology. They efface the traces of that “cheap metaphysics” that we so easily attach to stories and languages. They deflate, finally, that “religious inspiration” in which Camus, again, saw a sign of “universality”—that residue of an “idealism” that has run out of arguments and is short on ideas. The Kafka of Straub and Huillet is a Kafka without house or home, deprived of the ordinary markers of recognition, aimed at the very material of the book, threatened by the obstinate outpouring of their reasoning, as if taken in turn by the excessive panic of the closing arguments.
Class Relations does not forget any argument of the procedure when it cuts out and summarizes. The chapters are in order and none are missing. There’s the Stoker, the Uncle, the Villa outside of New York, the March to Ramses, the Hotel Occidental, the Visit to Brunelda and the Theater of Oklahoma. But this scrupulous reconstruction is accompanied by a double “betrayal,” a double negation of the overly-written Laws of literary customs.
It is difficult to recognize that everything comes from Kafka for two reasons. The first—and most obvious—is the deliberate absence of any ornamentation. The restaurant of the Hotel Occidental is emptied of its “noisy crowd,” of its buffet that takes up “the length of the room” and the running about of its “numerous waiters."2 No extras, no luxury and no swarms of people. The film is also missing the race course in Clayton with its “long low stage, on which a hundred women dressed as angels in white cloths, with great wings on their backs were blowing into golden trumpets.”3 No more tableaux vivants and no more fanfare. Nothing that may recall Busby Berkeley, Welles or Fellini.
These disappearances can easily be attributed to the constraints of a tight budget but that pretext is insufficient. The satisfaction of its certainty ignores the detours of its perversity. Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub secretly take up the spectacle they have refused. They have nothing to do with a Coppola or Leone-esque picturesqueness, they film New York and New Jersey in Hamburg and dress their actors in perfectly anachronistic costumes but they travel to film the Statue of Liberty, while they could have found the shot in any cinématheque, and hold on an anonymous and unidentifiable Missouri River that any other river could have stood in for.
The second reason that is opposed to the renewal of stereotypes is this reserve in the direction of the actors that is maintained against all expectations. There is no trace, in Class Relations, of the hysteria and gesticulation that is the inevitable mark of every Kafka adaptation. The actors are always perfectly still, almost immobile, caught in a relaxed state that excludes rigidity as much as apathy, their arms hanging at their sides, their hands open in a kind of original availability, at the almost undetectable border between inertia and movement. Gestures sink into a quasi-Eleatic uncertainty, as if hypnotized by the impossible invention of their displacement.
And then, when this tension is finally released—when an arm bends, when a mouth opens, and when a foot is lifted—the simplicity and justness of the journeys and the signals are even grander than anything that had until then come to disrupt the silence and expectation. There was nothing that allowed the symptom to be foreseen or anticipated. The gestures are encumbered by neither realism nor psychology nor that vulgarity of meaning where realism finds the confirmation of its prejudices. These gestures don’t exclude—as En râchâchant has already shown—excess or slapstick when Delamarche and Robinson combine their little scams or when the bouncing gait of a helmeted Keystone Cop from Max Sennett’s glory days is brought back to life, but they are included in a paradoxical mise en scène—at once urgent and libertarian—that circumvents the comforts of abstraction just as much as the redundancies of naturalness.
Now—and it is here, precisely, that Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s provocation intervenes—the coherence of this aesthetic, the very necessity of its intelligence, is traversed, defined, organized by a strategy. The confrontations where the Uncle and the Nephew, the Captain and the Sailor, the Workers and the Vagabonds, the Servants and the Bosses, the Employees and the Employers clash, this continual and multifaceted conflict—all of this talks about what can only, effectively, create a scandal. Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub bring back onstage those “classes” whose “struggle” must never (we’ve been told again and again) be forgotten but whose conception has never ceased to be a problem for Marxist “theory” either.
If there is, in effect, Marxism here, it is not in order to prescribe a “reading” of Kafka that would be more radical and more complete since it would include every other “reading” in advance but, to the contrary, in order to demonstrate an uncertainty. The Marx of “Klassenverhältnisse”—this young, 28 year old man who doesn’t hesitate in writing this blasphemous statement, at the beginning of The German Ideology: “Hitherto men have always formed wrong ideas about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be”4—is much more occupied with tearing down this illusion than opposing it with a truth, a spare humanism. He sets to work this “practical-critical activity,”5 this review, staging, that he reproaches Feuerbach so strongly for neither having known or wanted to develop. He attacks, in order to take it up again, the Hegelian novel. He opens up one thought to another.
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s film is also projected, literally, in this uncertain space where concepts slip away, where time is suspended, where it is wedged between the medieval-Hegelian “state” (Stand) and this “class” (Klasse) whose antagonism has been described by David Ricardo’s “heroic abstractions,” but where the effects of a “social law of nature”6 are still visible. A fragile, suspended, precarious moment where “eternity” sways back and forth over time; it is not yet the torrent of the “struggle” (Kampf) nor the rush of “movement” (Bewegung) but the fleeting, boundless, quasi-Mallarméan instant of the “relation” (Verhältnis) where people and morals stand out and transform, where these neighboring relations, the “social relations,” are agglomerated and organized “together.”
There’s still no question of recognizing in the distance or even perceiving this “end of history” where work and its divisions are supposed to be lost. The “relations” have no hopes; they don’t predetermine any future harmony. They don’t come out of their precariousness. They are always watching for a beginning, observing what appears when the “state” is effaced before “class,” what is outlined when the “conditioning” of people by the “relations” is illuminated. Class Relations speaks about this time where everything, in a certain manner, ends, but where everything also begins, with a kind of sad insight. Dawn, [François] Moisson says in Jean Renoir’s La Marseillaise (and he would know since he’s a painter) has nothing enchanting about it; it’s cold and the colors are imprecise.
“Class relations”—this new and implacable condition where people are suddenly deprived of their eternity, where they are abandoned to their fears without recourse, where they have to invent their words and gestures little by little—are also, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet prove, a matter of lighting. Their film is bathed in a cold sparkling glow whose reflection flickers at regular intervals when a long camera movement tracks along the front of a building or lights up the overly-polished surfaces of desks, doors, walls and counters. Light no longer has a place. It blends together ages and seasons, days and nights, streets and bedrooms, parks and hallways in this icy phosphorescence that Murnau and Dreyer’s films developed long ago. It no longer describes and underlines even less what it reveals. It no longer has anything to do with “expression.”
The space it discovers poses rules of an unbelievable geometry that escapes the rules of juxtaposition as well as the mathematics of surveying. Nothing sticks. Each shot is an enclosed world, closed in on its own precariousness. Karl and the Stoker, at the beginning, are admitted into the commander of the ship’s quarters but they remain stuck to the door they’ve closed behind them. The reverse shot only appears much later, when it is not expected, deepening, again by surprise, the violent space of power and then immediately enlarging, with the Uncle’s intervention, the domain of his authority. The spectacle never allows us to anticipate its limits. It persists in thwarting in advance the charms and traps of its geography. Class Relations, from this perspective, rediscovers the erratic country Raúl Ruiz showed in The Territory.
Class Relations paints a picture of loss and conquest. Its phantasmatic America, both true and false, torn between the real and the imaginary, does not cease to widen and contract—as if the rhythm of its spasmodic respiration was married to Karl Rossmann’s constantly affirmed and constantly disappointed need for justice—between the park and the villa, the bridges, the harbor, the offices, the staircases, the bedrooms, Brunelda’s sofa, the balcony where the young man hears about “politics” for the first time, and that river, in the very long final shot, whose meanderings and escapes offer not signs but the aleatory area of utopia. Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub do everything so that we can’t recognize them in their Amerika but they also allow us to find our way.
This text originally appeared in French in Aux distraitement désespérés que nous sommes..., published by the Petite Bibilothèque des Cahiers du cinèma in 2007.
- A more than welcomed alternative to Rotten Tomatoes, Critics Round Up is "the first movie review aggregator to select critics and publications based on merit instead of popularity." We're proudly among the publications cited and this is a space that will likely be a valuable source for cinephiles trying to get a sense of critical consensus amongst writers they trust (and will likely be especially handy come Cannes).
- Some additions to the Cannes lineup: Jim Jarmusch's vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is now in the Official Competition. Claude Lanzmann's Le dernier des injustes will play Out of Competition and Un Certain Regard has added three titles from Hiner Saleem, Katrin Gebbe and Lucia Puenzo. Meanwhile, Cannes Classics has unveiled its selection of restorations and docs. Finally, 3x3D, featuring 3D shorts from Jean-Luc Godard (pictured above), Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pêra, will close Semaine de la Critique.
- Over the weekend, at the Riviera Maya Film Festival, prize money was handed out to some "works in progress," and one of the winners is a production we're following closely: Raya Martin and Mark Peranson's La Ultima Pelicula. Keep your eyes peeled for a festival debut in the coming months. The awarding jury's statement:
"With hilarious and poetic heterogeneity, this meta-immersion into the unknown turns out to be successful in spite of having been designed for failure. It evokes past stories while looking ahead to an imminent filmic, cultural and spiritual apocalypse."
- Above: via The San Francisco Film Society, Steven Soderbergh's keynote speech on the State of Cinema (full transcript here).
- Above: a clip from Jonas Mekas' Outtakes From the Life of a Happy Man, on which Aaron Cutler has a piece in The Village Voice:
"Images race by of snowy city walks, sunlit relaxing in parks, and late-night drinks at home. Mekas himself sometimes shows up as a willowy, angular man who seems to have rounded and mellowed with age. Throughout, Out-Takes contrasts his different selves. The older Mekas periodically appears whistling and listening to rock music in his studio as he edits and projects his life, drinking in his present moment. The younger Mekas flashes in and out along with friends and family members, all of whom appear in shots that are just long enough to be absorbed, after the manner of the filmmaker's previous Bolex-recorded treasures. This silent 16mm footage, often scored here with choral chanting, has been glowingly transferred to video. Though they capture the past, these preserved images exist to please whoever receives them in the present."
- Above: Michael Mann makes the Hong Kong news as he prepares to shoot his next film, Cyber, starring Chris Hemsworth.
- Above: from the Tribeca Film Festival's 30th anniversary screening of The King of Comedy: Jerry Lewis reunited with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (take a look here for some highlights of the evening).
From the archives.
- Above: Images of the Mind - Cinematic Visions by Raymond Durgnat, "Finnish academic Jarmo Valkola's 1992 documentary about the highly influential British film critic."
Although there may be a few more surprise announcements, Cannes 2013 is pretty much in place with the lineups for the Fortnight and Critics' Week announced:
Opening Night: The Congress (Ari Folman)
Les Apaches (Thierry de Peretti)
A Strange Course of Events (Raphaël Nadjari)
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulneir)
La danza de la realidad (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
L'escale (Kaveh Bakhtiari)
La fille du 14 juillet (Antonin Peretjatko)
Henri (Yolande Moreau)
Ilo Ilo (Anthony Chen)
Jodorowsky's Dune (Frank Pavish)
Last Days on Mars (Ruairi Robinson)
Les garcons et Guillaume, a table! (Guillaume Gallienne)
Magic Magic (Sebastian Silva)
On the Job (Erik Matti)
The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard)
Tip Top (Serge Bozon)
Ugly (Anurag Kashyap)
Un voyageur (Marcel Ophuls)
El verano de los peces voladores (Marcela Said)
We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle)
Opening Night: Suzanne (Katell Quillevere)
Les rencontres d'apres minuit (Yann Gonzalez)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery)
For Those in Peril (Paul Wright)
Le demantelement (Sébastien Pilote)
Los Dueños (Agustin Toscano & Ezequiel Radusky)
Nos heros sont morts ce soir (David Perrault)
The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra)
The Major (Yury Bykov)
Salvo (Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza)
The Cinémathèque Française is currently running a major exhibition titled Le monde enchanté de Jacques Demy (through August 4) devoted to the great romantic fantasist who brought us such candy-colored musical reveries as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and Donkey Skin. What caught my eye was a video on their website (unsubtitled, unfortunately) in which the head of the poster department, Jacques Ayroles, takes us into the Cinémathèque’s vaults (which contain some 25,000 posters) and talks about the various posters for Demy’s films.
The exhibition seems to place particular emphasis on Peau d’Âne or Donkey Skin, Demy’s beloved Cocteau-esque fantasy which, in 1970, was his greatest success (with over 2 million admissions in France) and which came hot on the heels of one of his most disappointing flops, the L.A.-set Model Shop. Based on the 17th-century fairytale by Charles Perrault (famously illustrated by Gustave Doré), Donkey Skin stars Catherine Deneuve as a princess whose father the king (Jean Marais) believes he has to marry her to fulfill a promise to his dying Queen (also played by Deneuve) that he will only re-marry a woman as beautiful and virtuous as she. In order to put the kibosh on the incestuous union the princess demands three supposedly impossible wedding gifts: dresses the color of the sky, the sun and the moon. When he comes up with the goods, she asks for the hide of his prized magical, jewel-excreting donkey. That last gift fulfilled, the princess flees into the forest wearing the donkey hide, until she is discovered by a neighboring prince (played by Winged Migration director Jacques Perrin).
There is a section of the website devoted to sketches and photographs from the film and the exhibition itself displays various costumes and props, including the three dresses.
All of which gives me an excuse to collect the spectacularly varied international posters for the film, beginning with, at the top, Wiktor Gorka’s stunning pink, Polish design from 1973 (the title translates as “Princess in donkey skin”). One of Gorka’s finest, most striking works, the poster gives the tale of threatened incest a necessary note of blind panic.
The original French poster was illustrated by the English erotic-fantasy artist Jim Leon, who also designed the film’s sets. The same illustration and title treatment is seen in the film’s opening credits.
The 1972 Czech poster, below, which was designed by Alexei Jaros, co-opts part of Leon’s illustration and doubles the image of the Lilac Fairy (played in the film by Delphine Seyrig) but concentrates on a blue-faced Jean Marais and a floral wallpaper background.
A not particularly interesting 1970 Japanese poster...
Two Romanian posters, one illustrated, one in that peculiar Romanian house style in which black and white halftones are placed against a background of random abstract shapes.
It seems that Donkey Skin was not released in the US until 1975 (unless IMDb has that wrong). In Janus’s poster illustrated by Lee Reedy (who I am assuming is the same Lee Reedy who now paints images of the American West) all the elements of the film are beautifully configured in the style of a stained-glass window.
And finally here are three gorgeous chirashi posters for a 2005 Japanese re-release of the film in which Catherine Deneuve is seen in her three wedding dresses. I particularly love the little icon of the donkey, top right, and the infographic-style renditions of the sky, sun and moon. This is also the only poster in which Jean Marais’ fabulous cat throne makes an appearance.
As one last aside I just want to share these shots from Agnès Varda’s documentary The Universe of Jacques Demy in which home movies capture the enchanted visit to the Donkey Skin set (the Loire chateau of Chambord) of none other than François Truffaut and Jim Morrison.
Gorka poster and others courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Many thanks also to Xavier Jamet at the Cinémathèque Française.
Very nicely restored edition of Émile Cohl's Mobilier fidèle (The Faithful Furnishings, 1910, sometimes known as The Automatic Moving Company).
Cohl was one of the very first movie cartoonists. His earliest shorts, notably Fantasmagorie (1908) used line drawings to capitalize on animation's ability to make one figure morph magically into another. The stick figure characters, white lines on black, are pretty crude. Eventually he discovered cut-out animation, which was less fluid but allowed for very detailed drawings (since you don't have to draw a dozen new images per second), showing what a fine illustrator he could be.
But it didn't take Cohl long to discover the idea of combining animation with live action (as Segundo de Chomón was also doing). Animation becomes just another special effect, as in many modern films. We do it with CGI, he did it by having props, whether it was snapping false teeth, or as here, furniture, move about among live actors (who generally hold still until the stop-frame action is over).
A nice, nightmarish little film. Though the rebellious piano, carpet, etc., are just being loyal to their original householder, they exert considerable malevolence towards the folks who think they own them. I'm reminded of David Bowie's Berlin period, where the drugs he'd been on caused him to imagine the furniture moving around the room whenever his back was turned. There's also a touch of Polanksi's Repulsion and Lynch's Eraserhead to this show.
The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.
I recently discovered the posters of Polish artist Andrzej Krajewski, or I should say that I recently discovered his best work. I had seen some of his work before (and had featured one terrific 1970 design on my Tumblr) but its cartoony style—reminiscent of, and possibly influenced by, the 1960s work of Push Pin Studio in New York—wasn’t really my thing. But I obviously wasn’t looking in the right places or at the right posters.
Around the same time I came across the London-based Polish poster webstore Eye Sea Posters which may not be the most comprehensive Polish poster site on the web (that would be this one) but is certainly the most elegantly designed. Set up by James Dyer two years ago, the site allows you to browse by artist as well as by genre or subject matter, each search bringing up an uncluttered grid of often breathtaking designs, very many of which were new to me.
Eye Sea Posters has a number of superb Krajewski posters so I thought I would concentrate on those today. Krajewski was, like many of his colleagues, quite prolific, and anyone who wants to see more should explore his page on the Polish poster database which lists over 100 posters and links to about 70 of them.
Krajewski, who was born in Poznan, Poland, in 1933 and now lives in New Jersey, studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and began making posters in 1965. He continued to work through the early 80s until he emigrated to New York in 1985 where he proceded to concentrate on painting (though in recent years he has illustrated a number of unofficial movie posters for collectors, like this one for Boogie Nights). Heavily influenced at first by Pop Art (a famous example is his poster for Alphaville), Krajewski began to introduce an Art Deco element to his work in the 1970s, resulting in a series of geometric designs in which the vibrant enthusiasm of Pop is reigned in by patterns and grid systems.
With the exception of the 1979 poster at the top, the posters are presented here in chronological order to give a sense of the development of Krajewski’s style. Note how circles predominate in the earlier posters and how in the later ones there is not a single curved line. Most of the films here are not at all well known, which is probably why I had not come upon these posters before. Click on any of the titles to find them on the Eye Sea Poster site. Most of them are available to purchase.
- The lineup for the 52nd Semaine de la Critique as well as the 2013 Selection for Quinzane des Réalisateurs in Cannes have been announced. Also from Cannes: Kim Novak is set to be a guest of honour to mark a screening of the recently restored Vertigo.
- Above: The omniscient Twitter has revealed the first image behind the scenes of Abel Ferrara's new film featuring Gérard Depardieu as Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
- David Cronenberg has begun casting his next project, Maps to the Stars. The first names involved? Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon.
- Two of MUBI's very own are in different (early) stages of realizing film projects. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky has started shooting Ellie Lumme (production pictured above), having partly funded it via GoFundMe. Also head over to Vishnevetsky's blog for updates. Meanwhile, Kurt Walker (co-director of programming for MUBI Canada, Australia & New Zealand) is crowd-funding over at Indiegogo for Hit2Pass, a film that he's directing along with Tyson Storozinski—check the pitch video and the campaign here.
- Above: the trailer for Asghar Farhadi's The Past, which is set to debut in competition at Cannes next month.
- Above: from a stunning spread of photos from an issue of LIFE titled Teenage Wasteland: Japanese Youth in Revolt, 1964 comes this photograph by Michael Rougier. The original caption reads: "Kako, languid from sleeping pills she takes, is lost in a world of her own in a jazz shop in Tokyo." The series holds in vivid still life a generation brought to the big screen in films of the era by Yoshishige Yoshida, Yasuzo Masumura, Imamura, Oshima, Kō Nakahira and others.
- Featureshoot has discovered a new project by photographer Reiner Riedler. Titled The Unseen Seen, it is "a series of macro shots of original filmrolls" sourced from The Deutsche Kinemathek. Below you can see a roll for Christian Petzold's Ghosts (2005):
"Unlike most other showcases of experimental film and video, Images has been integrating gallery and museum work into its presentations pretty much since it began back in 1988. In this respect, Images has quietly blazed the trail that festivals such as Rotterdam, Berlin, and even Sundance have chosen to follow, encompassing not just screenwork destined for theatrical presentation but also media installation, projection-based performance, as well as single-screen environmental works that demand in-gallery monitor looping, the better to highlight their inherent non-linearity and remove the cognitive cues of “start” and “finish” implicit in a seated screening.
Images, doing its level best to avoid all but the most basic boundaries of genre, divides itself into two programmes only: “On Screen” and “Off Screen.” The festival has been ahead of the curve in combining these modes within a single institutional aegis. Moving through the various spaces Images encompasses, one can certainly sense that Executive Director Scott Miller Berry’s overall vision is expansive and artist-driven, following “screen culture” as it’s currently evolving."
- Criterion Collection's Current blog is thoughtfully hosting a piece by Notebook columnist David Cairns on The Return of Etaix. Regular readers of Cairns will remember that he did some preliminary exploration of Pierre Etaix's wonderful comedies in his column The Forgotten. (Adrian Curry has likewise highlighted the director's posters, one of which you can see above.)
From the archives.
Three Takes is a column dedicated to the art of short-form criticism. Each week, three writers—Calum Marsh, Fernando F. Croce, and Joseph Jon Lanthier—offer stylized capsules which engage, in brief, with classic and contemporary films.
BAD BOYS II (2003)
If Tony Scott painted in primary-color blotches and smears, Michael Bay instead opts to detonate the bucket, his brand of ludicrous maximalism less a distinct visual style than simply the shortest route from containment to paint on the wall. In Bad Boys II, what passes as the vulgar auteur’s pop-cinematic opus, reds erupt across a cobalt-tinted Miami sky like million-dollar Pollockian splatters, every formal gesture a cinematic champagne toast to the profane and obscene. Like Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank, the preeminent Godardian riff on Bay’s (comparatively) classical template, mauvais gout seems as much a guiding principle as it is a point of pride, vulgarity gleefully indulged in both as a function of and logical end point to a substantial tradition of repugnant blockbuster spectacle. Fin du film, fin de cinema, contemporized and duly drained of its cumbersome ideology: “Shit just got real”, a generation’s alarmist declaration. But while Bay regards language as crude—ill-equipped for modern expression except as a jumble of subcultural slang and industry jargon—what he articulates visually has a simplicity, almost an elegance, that all but validates his bias against words. Its most emblematic images remain remarkably provocative: two black men, guns raised against (literal) oppressors, cast in relief against a klan-ignited cross burning brightly behind. That’s the central contradiction of Bad Boys II: though at heart a celebration of seemingly mindless indecorum, its very surfaces betray an awareness that representation is political. That cognitive dissonance is invigorating. —Calum Marsh
That cops Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence) spend most of Bad Boys II attempting to pinch shut the constant pulse of ecstasy through Miami at its drug-lord source narratively confirms how conflicted the film becomes toward its own lysergic imagery. Vividly exaggerating the color schemes, whiplash camera swivels, and juxtapositions of vehicular Grand Guignol and domestic dramedy endemic to a particular strain of American blockbuster-dom (think of this as Lethal Weapon 2 post mild hallucinogen ingestion), the movie seems to grow sick of its own hyper-ethos swiftly—yet it can’t stop upping this ante, either. (Marcus: “This is some sick shit.” Mike: “Yeah, well...it’s about to get sicker.”) Toward the start, Michael Bay’s name is superimposed over a conflagrating cross as Mike and Marcus infiltrate a KKK meeting-cum-narcotics hand-off, a portentous alignment of auteurial agency with diegetic antagonism; soon after, friendly fire strikes Marcus in the posterior, rendering him not only impotent for the remainder of the running time but in no mood to confront the endless procession of cornea cornholing abuse to which he and Mike are subjected. Marcus’ above-ground pool twice tears asunder, releasing torrents of toxically vibrant green and blue; thinned blood sluices onto a negotiation table from a bucket full of body parts like errant Hawaiian Punch; and, in one of the film’s most screwball-y flourishes, Marcus grimaces at the sight of two (very obviously puppet) rats copulating in a Miami mansion basement made thick by teal-hued acid mist. Notwithstanding a few (botched) choruses of the Bad Boys theme song and the cathartic vandalization of a Haitian headshop whose owner has crucial information, only Miami’s vermin are permitted to enjoy any of the city’s specularized squalor and hedonism. Surreal but far from saturnalian, Bad Boys II frustrates us as it frustrates its main characters; police work has seldom appeared more hyperkinetic or less gleeful. —Joseph Jon Lanthier
Early on, the camera spins and slithers through a teeming nightclub, all but rubbing against the sweaty, phosphorescent revelers; one unlucky dude overdoses on ecstasy and gets unceremoniously dumped in a rainy alley. Cue Nelly’s “Shake Ya Tailfeather.” Michael Bay’s aesthetic is a steroidal distillate for those pleasure-seekers sitting in the dark, and in Bad Boys II the peddler seems bored with his own heady substance. Retreading to the buddy-cop realm after the box-office disappointment of Pearl Harbor (2001), Bay keeps himself awake by spiking genre tropes with baroque grotesqueries, pushing the sequel closer to such classics of repellence as Frankenheimer’s 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), Aldrich’s The Choirboys (1977) and Eastwood’s The Rookie (1990) than to the original film. Accordingly, the “heroes” played by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are not just mismatched partners, but a sociopathic lothario leering at a dead woman’s breasts and a family man reduced to impotence and a bruised ass. The tumult of highway chases—with the interplay of cars, trucks, boats, and helicopters offering a foretaste of the metallic cartwheeling of the Transformers films—is further decorated with stitched-up corpses dropping off a mortuary van. And where fellow crass auteur Sylvester Stallone stages his personal D-Day massacre in Rambo (2008), Bay envisions a SWAT raid on Cuba as a gaudy rectification of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Blazing filters, lunatic circular camera movements, promiscuous cathedral lighting, a greasy bad guy at one point made to look like Jesus: “some sort of visual code-breaking,” as someone says, or just a pop pulverizer scrambling to find ways to penetrate the eye? Whatever it thinks it’s doing, Bad Boys II—with its sequence of Hummers plowing through Cuban shantytowns providing enormously potent images of reckless Yankee imperialism—emerges as a devastating compendium of the vilest impulses of the early Bush aughts. Will Pain & Gain, set in the year Bay made his feature debut, be as arresting a summation of the worst of the nineties? —Fernando F. Croce