Movie posters have long held a fascination. As both a cinephile and a graphic designer, film advertising occupies a shared position in my Venn diagram of interests.
Like any form of commercial graphics, the compositions of movie posters tread a careful line between any number of competing and often mutually exclusive objectives. Done badly, they are simply more visible clutter plastered on the side of a bus stop shelter, easily ignored as you continue your daily drive to work. Done well, however, then the finest posters blur the distinction between art and commerce until the two become indistinguishable.
I could spend a long time ranting about why contemporary movie poster design is in a rut (short version: the rise of computerised desk top publishing and the fall of the classically trained commercial artist, plus actor’s contracts and a liberal dollop of marketing interference). Fortunately more knowledgeable minds than I (plus someone from The Guardian) have already written about this here and here.
Thankfully there are exceptions. I was reminded of this when I spotted a teaser poster for a new movie based on the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise (2016), shown above.
The best movie posters often encapsulate a film in a single iconic image: think of the shark rising from below in the poster for Jaws, or Saul Bass’s spiralling vortex in his poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo. These simple yet artful compositions offer a better flavour of a film than a cluster of Photoshopped vignettes of the leading actors ever could.
The High-Rise teaser is an example of good poster design. We are presented with a smartly framed detail from a Triumph Stag; even without knowing what car it is, the distinctive style immediately places us at the start of the 1970s. A Stag has never looked so beautiful as it does in this poster, the lustrous polish and the richness of the photography immediately connoting luxury and good times. Then we spy the inset detail, a reflection of a falling man. Clearly the good times are not set to last.
And thus in one image the scene is set and our whistles whetted. Job done.
The astute among you will have noticed that the High-Rise poster adds a third intersecting shape to my Venn diagram of interests: cars.
Unsurprisingly considering the historical love affair between Hollywood and the automobile, cars have often featured prominently in movie posters, to varying degrees of success. In the second part of this article I will discuss some of my favourite examples of cars in movie posters.