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Posterized April 2019: ‘High Life,’ ‘Her Smell,’ ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ and More

Written by on April 5, 2019 

Bisection

P+A is also the firm of note on A24’s poster for High Life (limited April 5). It’s a fascinating tease with an astronaut glove holding a baby’s hand: two worlds colliding in a union that splits the page to separate title from cast list. Our eyes therefore get drawn directly to the center, the black glove the most saturated part of the whole. From there we go down to the bottom left via the fingertips and eventually up to the top right, pushing out to finally see the scene presented and the oddity of it all. Add the tagline “Oblivion awaits” and you have to wonder if this meeting between time and age occurred too late.

Something about the glossiness of the imagery and the generic, faceless characters leaves things a bit impersonal, though. While Le Cercle Noir’s sheet doesn’t have that issue with Robert Pattinson’s face creating a sort of quarter moon aura against the stars, it also doesn’t possess the same allure. It’s captivating enough, but nowhere near as mysterious. The sheer fact that the American studio went with an expression of kinship instead of portraiture makes you wonder what’s in-store.

There’s a similar disconnect in the opposite direct where Suburban Birds (limited April 5) is concerned. This time it’s the festival sheet that delivers a sense of play and exuberance that cannot be matched in its American counterpart. I love the way the flagpole bisects the frame with a janky curve because it lends itself perfectly to the actors being in motion around it to let their bags fly into the distance. Even the clouds in the sky create a curved trajectory as though we’re spinning around it too, the dizziness of the act bringing a smile to our faces.

F Ron Miller’s version provides a much different tone with its bold font and darker palette. What was a fleeting glimpse of youth is now steeped in the drama of the unknown as these kids walk away rather than around. There’s almost a horror vibe here, the title’s sharp edges foretelling danger where the thin serif had given hope. Maybe this one gets the film better (I haven’t seen it yet to say), but the other draws us in more.

Empire Design’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (limited April 10) is a glorious bit of minimalist advertising. They’ve really given it character beyond the hand-scrawled graphic quality alone, titling things a bit to drive the spear through the dead body’s heart right down the middle of the frame. The white title pops off the page, pushing downwards with its lines all drawn to the figure’s heart. It’s as though the spear was thrown and the white provides the motion with Q and X forming a “v” to guide it towards that mark.

The firm’s final sheet is good too with its Terry Gilliam surrealism and the cutout-animated aesthetic he used back in his Monty Python days. This title is playful in its loops and lines connecting to fill the white space in the middle. The giant hand as stage is also a fantastical element of metaphor if not an example of the set itself. But I miss the spare quality of its predecessor when trying to parse the many faces with incongruous expressions thrown together without purpose.

It’s Empire that’s responsible for The White Crow (limited April 26) too, its line a mirror of the one on the Quixote tease. This one also presents itself less as a division point and more as a focal point to travel through the scene. The arm is a result of the performance and the sightline snapping our gaze up the arch of his body and through the title—which itself provides depth in its gradually decreasing point size and thus brightness. That arm is playing off the otherwise central axis, dancing around its regimented stability to share the tag’s freedom from conformity.

The other poster loses that inherent elegance by overpowering the canvas with a determined face covered in shadows. Where the first created drama, this one forces it down our throats without a shred of subtlety. The dance pose is flooded with light to cancel out the anatomical detail, its position beneath that gigantic floating head almost an expression of having conjured it from thin air like magic. The first let its subject speak through form while the second proves too scared to let its inherent beauty shine.


Human instinct

With a title like Her Smell (limited April 12), Leroy and Rose’s poster seems pretty apt. This is about a punk rocker self-destructing, so there’s no need for a glamour shot when attitude serves a better purpose. Have Elisabeth Moss stick her tongue out at the camera while winking. Let her character’s persona shine through without going full-bore into her descent like the film stills showing tear-streaked mascara. The goal is to be provocative and inviting and this one does both.

The designers don’t let hair frame the actor’s face for Long Day’s Journey Into Night (limited April 12), though. This one is more about the mystery surrounding the character than the character herself. So the hair becomes a veil masking her identity and revealing nothing more than an open mouth in what could be shock at what has occurred. Maybe she shot the man in the background with the gun by her side or maybe she found them both that way. Regardless, the scene is set.

Where things go even further is with the light blur of motion surrounding them. It’s as though we’re inside her head as it spins with confusion so fast that time becomes irrelevant. The title then seems a metaphor for the darkness of the situation in which she finds herself, the journey through it proving long and perhaps impossibly demanding. Will she fall to the floor dizzy upon standing up? Or will she be able to walk away and do what must be done?

It’s interesting that the original Chinese sheet removes this presumably defining moment to focus on the woman alone. Now we see her face, the look of fear replaced by certainty. Instead of creating a murder scene, this poster presents her as a singer onstage joined by what look like pastel flowers bursting open around her. The whole is still dark, but it’s not nearly as anxiety-inducing. Here we see promise instead of helplessness. Here is the dream instead of the nightmare. I guess tragedy is an easier sell for Americans.

From blacks to blues we move towards Fast Color (limited April 19) and eclipse’s bright yet apprehensive poster. The watercolor paint aesthetic has been used many times in the past (see For Colored Girls and All I See Is You), but usually it’s wielded atop the subject rather than outside. It’s generally about tears or makeup—unavoidable drama ready to be unleashed by the film containing it. This time, however, the color is escaping.

The reason Gugu Mbatha-Raw is still sad stems from the fact that she’s unsure of whether it should be released. We see tears as catharsis while this paint represents power. Maybe it’s a weapon being unleashed or a force field meant to protect. Either way it’s a part of her—she the black and white vessel and it the fantastical abilities her world might not be ready to accept.

And that leads us towards mass humanity courtesy of AllCity’s Peterloo (limited April 5). From provocation to fear of circumstances to fear of oneself, we finally hit the pure chaos or war via an English massacre. The faces are just as prevalent and expressive, but context is taken out of their individual hands and placed into the historical significance of their mutual convergence. It’s a kinetic mess of limbs as bodies fight against each other in the foreground while others speak with purpose above.

And rather than lean into the period aesthetic so prevalently on display via costume, the firm goes for a modern contrast with a sans serif in bright green stamped above the carnage. The director’s name gets a pristine serif above those people still maintaining the calm while all hell breaks loose against the boldly in-your-face title serving as a literal border between peace and battle. The levee is about to bust.

What is your favorite April release poster? What could have used a rework?

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