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Posterized September 2019: ‘Ad Astra,’ ‘IT Chapter Two,’ ‘The Death of Dick Long,’ and More

Written by on September 4, 2019 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


With four big festivals happening this month (Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York), it’s no surprise that the only true blockbusters hitting screens are the highly anticipated sequel to a Stephen King property and the inexplicable return of Downton Abbey (September 20). We could probably throw Rambo: Last Blood (September 20) into the mix too for the boomer crowd.

That’s not to say movies like Hustlers (September 13) and Abominable (September 27) won’t make money. They will. The distinction comes from those two titles making their debuts on that same festival circuit. Just because the former opens wide mere days after its TIFF bow doesn’t mean a little added press won’t augment exposure. An event like that wants stars like Jennifer Lopez posing for photos and studios want audiences to think they aren’t missing out on the “festival experience.”

Posters therefore become a huge part of ensuring the public knows what’s available as fall turnover in theaters happens quickly. The glitz and glamour of festival season puts a lot of titles in their heads courtesy of red carpet news coverage and a nice piece of artwork can help them wade through the noise.


Portraiture

When a documentarian has films like Senna and Amy on his/her résumé, their inclusion on the director’s latest work shouldn’t be a surprise. What’s interesting about Diego Maradona (limited September 20), however, is that Empire Design has risked competing with the logotype they created for this film by listing those previous works in their own. That yellow “Senna” grabs my eye every time I look at this sheet and holds my sight from peering down at what’s being sold. It’s not necessarily bad thing, though, since seeing that name is what got me intrigued in the first place.

Without it the poster is pretty forgettable. The blue “Maradona” mirrors the blue of the subject’s shirt and the halo glow around his head helps to align with the “Hero” and “God” of the tagline while his scowl depicts “Rebel” and “Hustler.” While bland is okay for fans of the athlete since his name and photo is enough to get them excited, I personally needed that aforementioned reminder that Asif Kapadia was the one who put this story together.

Depraved (limited September 13) could have fallen prey to blandness too considering it’s nothing more than a face at the center of the page, but Brandon Schaefer and Jump Cut know how to do a lot with a little via color, texture, and aesthetic.

This isn’t merely a photo of Alex Breaux in make-up. It’s an isolated head bathed in red and shadows against a grungy backdrop and d-movie title font. There’s a throwback nature to the construction of the sheet that’s been brought into the twenty-first century so it’s not too much different than the other posters on the wall. It’s an extremely polished riff on lo-fi trash—something I wouldn’t be shocked to learn the film is too.

Gravillis Inc.’s Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (limited September 6) takes a similar route albeit one that proves more conventional. Rather than create something new in the style of something old, they’ve taken an old photograph and manipulated it to add drama while still retaining the soft grain of its origins. By making the color saturation super dark, the colors become more vibrant than they’ve been since the day the photo was snapped. The yellow title doesn’t therefore pop as much as fall in line with the bandana around her neck to guide our eyes down from her face, through the fabric and her hands, and straight to the text.

The opposite is done with Empire Design’s Judy (September 27) as they push Renée Zellweger to the side so she can literally point to the title with her arm. Rather than let her dress melt into a black background like Ronstadt, the contrast from white to dark transforms her chiaroscuro to a virtual silhouette that allows the glittery “Judy” to sparkle all on its own.

It may not seem like much, but comparing it to LA’s poster (with photography by Jason Bell) shows exactly how good it is. Here the black and white Zellweger becomes lost within the black and white lights behind her—the low contrast muddying everything into a consistent gray that the red title cannot compete against. Instead of being a bright beacon in an otherwise drab whole, the glitter here undercuts the color’s power to break free. It grounds it to the blacks and whites so that the only true outlier becomes “September” at the very bottom.


Similarities abound

It’s weird that the American posters for Rambo: Last Blood (September 20) didn’t do what the Italian teaser did: copy the spray painted black/white/red stencil look of Rambo. The choice is an easy one to make considering it’s been a while since Sylvester Stallone tied up that headband and some aesthetic connection might have done it good. Better than a badly blurred agro-Robin Hood trapped in flames at least.

I’m not sure what LA was doing with the latter because it’s pretty silly when all is said and done. I do wonder, though, if the studio nixed bringing that kneeling Rambo to the States because it bore too much resemblance to Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest and thus would turn off the film’s main demographic: an American flag wearing public too dumb to realize their jingoistic clothing is what’s actually disrespectful.

The English language First Love (limited September 27) design is less about recalling something else than being something else. I know it’s not exact, but I thought this was an ad for the new HBO Watchmen series the first time it crossed my path. Between the closely kerned, bold yellow font and the pink splatter—how could I not? Someone had to have thought the same during those design meetings, so I must assume it was intentional.

Thankfully the festival sheet from Cannes has a bit more personality with its hand-drawn collection of carnage and unraveling skin. It too brings to mind something else due to the latter (Kevin Tong’s Mondo release of Mulholland Drive), but not enough to stop it from existing on its own merits. I would like to know whether a nude woman being the owner of that skin has contextual purpose to the whole, though. Otherwise it’s just another product using sex to sell tickets and that’s hardly creative.

Ad Astra (September 20) becomes an intriguing case study since almost every one of its posters bears resemblance to another. A big part of this is the fact that space carries with it a specific set of visual tools with which to wield. While an astronaut alone against the black void is one such motif we’re seen countless times before, WORKS ADV does its best to at least stand apart.

Where The Refinery’s Gravity depicts a person in crisis who’s desperate to swim to safety or reach out towards something she cannot grasp, Ad Astra shifts perspective and tone to deliver something else despite the pieces being the same. By shifting the angle lower, it’s as though its figure is walking on air without distress. And by morphing our sight with wavy static, his disappearance isn’t going to be slow and futile. He might blip out in an instant. The drama is therefore the same, but the mystery is its own beast.

Sadly, that’s the only copycat that adds something new to the equation. Brad Pitt the astronaut practically uses the same template as MOT’s Solis (albeit with a ton more polish) and BLT Communications, LLC’s French sheet proves a less effective riff on Creative Partnership’s First Man. Only BLT’s IMAX layout delivers something fresh by inverting space so it’s inside the actor with the white of possibility flooding the frame around him. It’s a beautiful visual metaphor.

I include Coffee & Cigarettes’ Extra Ordinary (limited September 27) here not because it appropriates a successful campaign from the past, but because it uses a concept that in turn makes it appear as though it does. The previous work I speak of is Being John Malkovich and its crowd of Popsicle stick masks that show how we’re all John Malkovich. It’s this idea that what makes us different can be neutralized if everyone around us adopts that same quality that’s being used here—not a visual repetition scheme on its own. Where one sheeted ghost is scary, a ton of them becomes comical.

It’s a wonderful representation of the tagline “Putting the normal in paranormal” because it shows how the unfamiliarity of an aberration is what stops us in our tracks. Once we normalize it, we can acknowledge that it’s not in our space. It’s sharing our space.

The final sheet loses this conceptual edge by simply plastering actors on the page underneath Will Forte’s goofy face. If anything, this poster shows us that the film itself might be what’s ordinary.

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