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Posterized March 2019: ‘Us,’ ‘Transit,’ ‘Black Mother,’ and More

Written by on March 1, 2019 

Minimalist tease

The art of the tease creates some of the most captivating works of cinematic marketing because the designers aren’t beholden to as many rules. They don’t need to have so-and-so’s face front and center. They don’t have to find room to smack a slab of text somewhere that won’t interfere with the overall composition. And sometimes they don’t even have to worry about a title when the property is ubiquitous enough.

BOND’s Greta (March 1) is a perfect example of one such success. Will those two actors’ names sell tickets? Maybe. But just in case they don’t, we also get a wild juxtaposition of fishhook and purse as bait. The assumption is that Isabelle Huppert is putting out the handbag as a means to ensnare the younger Chloë Grace Moretz, the use of a hook to do so providing a sinister edge. As far as the weird wash of color in the background goes: I have no clue what’s happening there. Is it water? Grime? Poorly bleached blood? When coupled with the central imagery, it’s just foreboding enough to cringe in fear.

Look at P+A’s final sheet for comparison, though. We now have the actors filling the page as some sort of demented Matryoshka doll. Where its predecessor tempered its absurd comedy with uncertain terror, this one goes headfirst into cartoon. It may confirm itself to be truer to the film itself (I haven’t seen it yet), but it lacks the mystery that sold me in the first place.

An Elephant Sitting Still (limited March 8) doesn’t have to worry about toeing any tonal line as it embraces its drama with what could easily be a staged photograph. These four actors are practically posing for us, their beat-down fatigue speaking volumes against desolate rocks. The blurred mountain in the distance only helps to dwarf them and thus make them seem more tired hopeless than before. Add the sharply drawn, slanted strokes of the title in English and Mandarin to keep things off-balance and you begin to recognize their interwoven story won’t be cut and dry.

Thankfully the artists weren’t susceptible to being so on-the-nose that they’d want to add an actual elephant like the one at right. Rather than be scary like the darkened atmosphere craves, the result comes off as just plain goofy.

The same can’t be said of LA’s Us (March 22). Scissors are obviously a tool that can be weaponized, but who knew they could be depicted so creepily thanks to a cultish red robe and leather-clad hands clasped as though in prayer? The real payoff here is of course the way they have been molded to recall Caelin White’s original drawing of two heads back to back. Those finger loops are faces on bent necks forever moving in reverse identical motion from their joint fulcrum.

I therefore love the subtlety and intentional progression forward. To me it’s much scarier than the more blatant online image of Lupita Nyong’o’s tearfully wide-eyed self holding a mask of her skin. I think the former may represent the film better too (I haven’t seen this one yet either) as it keeps both entities (good and bad) together rather than assume one is pretending to be the other. An increase in shock value isn’t always an increase in success.

And while it’s less a tease than the product of a studio unencumbered by big budget strings, Midnight Marauder’s Black Mother (limited March 8) hits the scene as an ingeniously and unforgettably simple graphical depiction. It’s only fitting that a self-proclaimed “visual poem” would find itself marketed by the very subject of its name: a Black woman who will not be forgotten or erased.

This is because the Xerox copy aesthetic isn’t only a means to create a captivating image that does away with the separation between foreground and background so our eyes can process the whole as a quasi-optical illusion. It also creates a sense that you could copy the original over and over again with certain lines and details disappearing, but the woman herself will never lose her place. Her face and her soul will forever come through.

Captivating frame

If you look at the original festival sheet for Climax (limited March 1) at right you can see just how staid and fake things can be. I’m a big fan of the title as logotype with the “x” extending into an all-encompassing frame, but the way the characters are meticulously (and poorly shadowed) atop it on the fringes is uninspiring. There’s no dancing, nightmarish hallucination, or drug-fueled fun. Everyone is simply placed as though pieces on a game board—static and without purpose beyond holding their spot.

So the final French poster above proves invigorating by comparison. The title is now projected upon a curtain at back in the colors of the French flag. The characters are up and engaged in a set of movements that feels as though it could restart at any moment. And the angle of approach comes with an off-kilter trajectory, our vantage pushing in to swoop around their bodies and take in the whole scene rather than just hang overhead with nowhere to go. We’re a part of the action instead of stuck waiting for it to begin.

For a subject like Hotel Mumbai (March 22), it’s easy to play upon a sense of dramatic terror with guns. BOND does exactly that at right with its automatic rifle landscape threatening violence as a quintet of actors look scared in their tiny little boxes above. There’s no true emotion in it, though. It’s merely a collection of pieces adding up to nothing.

So why not look at what happened from another direction like the sheet at the start of this section? Why not remove all the obvious tropes and replace them with a singularly cohesive scene that can be understood on its own? That’s what this glimpse inside the hotel provides. Here we are hiding in the bathtub as bullets fly to bore holes into the wall. Here’s the harrowing experience from our vantage point rather than disembodied heads selling celebrity over true-life event. Using a Variety blurb that literally describes the poster with its “Visually Breathtaking” and “Emotionally Electrifying” prose maybe be a bit ham-fisted, but you can’t fault the designers for wanting to bring that glowing response to life.

There’s a similarly mysterious use of our positioning as the viewer with The Boland Design Company’s Transit (limited March 1). They use a ton of reflections to both separate us from the subject and them from each other. But who’s hiding from whom? Is the silhouette of Paula Beer spying upon Franz Rogowski or the other way around? For all we know the layers of glass and mirrors is creating a distance that doesn’t exist at all. Maybe they’re looking directly at each other while we’re revealed as the one who’s hiding. The possibilities are tiny mysteries that draw us in to discover the answer.

It’s very much like the German festival sheet albeit with a glossier, more attractive sheen. That one uses its crop to separate man and woman so we see her in life and him in reflection. So they are physically together and yet perhaps emotionally apart. This duality is therefore consistent, the visual fracturing thematically intentional. And whether augmented by filters or simply cut from life, I have to imagine the finished product is a gorgeous feat.

Moving from pretty to disturbing we finally set our gaze upon Wounds (limited March 29). I don’t know where to begin with this one since it definitely proves to be about more mood than content. This is some surreal Stanley Donwood type stuff from a Radiohead album with emotion and electronics merging to elicit an off-putting vibe that sears its visceral image onto your retina. And it does “glitching” so much better than that second Captive State sheet did above.

The horror of it is palpable, the cry of pain as easily a reaction to something be said over the phone or the phone itself proving a delivery device of auditory torture. His very being is shattered, his essence sucked away as though the spiral void of the title’s “o” is ripping him apart. I’m sold.

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

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