It’s a quiet month for studio blockbusters. Sony has Bullet Train (August 5) and The Invitation (August 26); Universal has Beast (August 19). Not to speak on their quality—I’ve yet to see any—but those aren’t the sort of titles that make competitors scramble to avoid.
As such, the board is wide open. Hook an audience with a compelling marketing campaign and earn yourself a ticket sale. It’s no surprise the likes of A24, Bleecker Street, and IFC each have two or more titles on the calendar—they found the soft spot and they’re capitalizing.
Less is more
I never know where to put Lionsgate in the hierarchy. Probably between the top and mid-range studios mentioned above. Their latest is Fall (August 12), a film I’ve seen nothing about save Richard Rho’s poster. It might not be enough for me to go, but it did earn it a mention here.
Because—despite the boring sans serif title acting as more of a demand than a descriptor—the image itself is exciting. It reminds me of that Tom Cruise photo on the Burj Khalifa, only this time we’re supposed to believe there is a threat of falling. Implausible logistics or not, you get the spirit of a single-locale thriller with characters fighting vertigo, fear of heights, wind, and faulty engineering. Simple and to the point, you either see this sheet and smack your friend saying “we need to see that” or you smirk and keep walking.
For Mubi’s Free Chol Soo Lee (limited, August 12), it’s less about experience than subject. Those who know the story will need nothing more than a name. Those who don’t will need context clues. That means a photo of him with microphones and cameras while walking into what we assume is a courthouse. “Free” means he’s being held for a crime, after all. Now we know the setting too.
From there it’s about aesthetic. And, like Three Identical Strangers, the blocked cutout nature of black text on yellow seems to conjure notions of non-fiction journalistic integrity. This one is more dynamic, differing sizes and sections leading our eye around the page, jumping the gaps to move from blurbs to title. Those critic quotes are never more necessary than with documentaries too, telling us about the work’s political leaning and potential emotional resonance. No explosions or fire effects here.
And then you have Midnight Marauder channeling Eadweard Muybridge for their El Gran Movimiento (limited, August 12) posters. Here’s a film about a young man falling ill in Bolivia, only to be brought to a witch doctor. It’s an alluring conceit made more mysterious and uncertain by these series of images presenting an actor and a light, the latter in differing apertures to either grow brighter or dimmer depending on the version.
One is in the mouth, the other in the eye: our senses of sight and speech highlighted amidst the visual repetition to more or less epitomize the cinematic experience itself. The red and green coloring keeps them minimal yet bright enough to jar us awake from the usual glossy photography on the theater walls. It’s a bold campaign putting intrigue above narrative to hypnotize us with a vision of the unknown.
The poster for Three Minutes: A Lengthening (limited, August 19) takes a photo manipulation no-no and turns it into a beautiful effect. There are stamp and band-aid tools in Photoshop because you cannot simply take a background field and scale it longer. This is sometimes true even when you think the field is a solid color. The reason you can’t: those fields are made of pixels. So, rather than adding pixels, you’re stretching the few you have. And it leaves you with a ribboned curtain as seen here.
Where the designers switch things up is by using that curtain as the background they seek. This isn’t therefore a case of someone creating more than what’s available can supply. It’s an artist making a conscious choice to use what’s at their disposal and build something wholly new. You can see it in the fact that the “real” background of the photo remains visible beneath the curtain. Those color bands are superimposed atop rather than a product and extension of the image itself. We therefore get the image and the metaphorical illustration of the title’s “lengthening.” It’s wonderful.
The Refinery also builds its backdrop for Summering (limited, August 12), though in a much different way. Rather than take and tinker from what is already visibly present, they draw a scene to complement what is instead. And it works splendidly with the tagline: “Summer is a state of mind.” The notion those words cultivate is a sense that these children playing in the grass might actually be playing in the snow. Their literal environment is thus rendered secondary to the one in their minds. If they want to believe it’s summer, it becomes summer.
This is a concept that allows for true creativity; the firm doesn’t disappoint. Beyond merely drawing a tree, they provide a wealth of uniquely styled icons in the sky from fries to milkshakes to snails. Even the tree itself isn’t a tree but a collection of green handprints adding to the playful nature of the whole. And with the subtle wear and tear of the corners we can believe one or more of those children made the poster themselves on a piece of thick paper to remember the fun they had.
Get Away If You Can (limited & VOD, August 19) is perhaps the simplest of this trio, its backdrop being nothing more than a rectangle of bluish-green hue. But it’s difficult to call anything by Aleksander Walijewski “simple.” The Polish artist has really taken the indie-poster scene by storm these past couple years; this one only adds to a growing portfolio of gorgeously surreal work.
It has the boat that TJ and Domi (the film’s stars, writers, and directors) take to a deserted island in the hopes of reigniting the spark in their relationship. It has the two diving deep into the water (that rectangle doubling as the sea and a screen with which to project the story of those from the boat) while a domineering father figure (Ed Harris) looms above, watching. Are they escaping his grasp as much as their own troubled present? Perhaps. To find what they’re looking for they must go further and further from that which has held them back.
I singled out A24 and IFC in the opening—three of this month’s combined titles (which deliver alternative programming) all have posters designed by GrandSon. More than that, Drusilla Adeline (who you may also know as the designer behind Sister Hyde) personally had a hand in all three highlighted above.
What’s great, too, about her hire is that she’s been providing the best poster credits breakdowns of anyone, sharing on social media the names of the designer, illustrator, letterer, creative director, etc. for each. I hope other firms follow suit because it is tough to know who did the work underneath a corporate umbrella these days, beyond when artists themselves share the info. Poster debuts from publicists still don’t even provide the umbrella unless asked. Sometimes not even then.
Back to the work.
I’m a fan of the Bodies Bodies Bodies (limited, August 5; expands, August 12) teaser. It’s fun and cheeky in its depiction of a “safe space” via dashed line and tag, the machete slicing through the words as we wonder which set of eyes is holding the weapon.
It goes very well with the finished sheet. (Adeline didn’t post this one; I assume it was done by someone else at GrandSon.) The eyes come with faces now and the hazy, bright colors of the title are mimicked throughout via necklaces, bracelets, and phone flashes. They’re all still confined in that “not so safe space” too—none of them even trying to break free since, perhaps, they aren’t yet aware they’re in danger. And the only one we trust is Amandla Stenberg—she’s the only one looking at someone other than us. Because if the rest are only worried about us, we can’t trust that the reason isn’t because they’re the ones looking to kill.
Next is a glorious checkout aisle paperback cover for Spin Me Round (limited, August 19). Designed by Jillian Tadej and illustrated by Steve Chorney with title and copy by Adeline, the whole is very reminiscent to its tongue-in-cheek sibling in the Criterion cover for Polyester (illustration by Sam Hadley with design and lettering by Raphael Geroni). It’s a fun little bit of faux-found-object trickery complete with a creased / used perfect binding. All it’s missing is a folded-over corner to finish the look.
What I really enjoy are the little details, though. Having the price point and publisher logo at bottom-left and a banner strip by way of garter top left add so much to the overall aesthetic. So too does the title treatment’s embossed gradient alluding to the letters being puffed out from the page. It commits to the bit and excels for the trouble.
Last but not least is Funny Pages (limited, August 26). Designed by Adeline with illustrations by Johnny Ryan, the poster leans heavy into underground comic styling by way of Terry Zwigoff’s work with Daniel Clowes. From ingested knives to bare butts to stretched orifices, there’s a lot here that you’d almost expect wouldn’t get by lawyers before hitting the streets for public consumption. It makes you wonder how much further the film goes.
The composition itself is nice and clean—symmetrical on the center y-axis like so many others. Where this one set itself apart, however, is the typography. Rather than have three of more fonts cluttering things up, Sister Hyde sticks solely with the hand-lettering. Its letters are inconsistent, too; I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it was all done by hand (I’ve since learned it was via comic veteran Peter Bagge). Even the credit box at bottom uses that same scrawl, bolding the director’s name so it won’t have to be copied and pasted multiple times above (I’m looking at you, The Lighthouse). It’s a comic-book page for a movie about a comic-book artist.