Remember I announced this summer that I was going to start looking at the European movie releases again? Well, the Dutch and Belgian ones that is – like I wrote the amount of posters has to stay manageable. This is how the ScreenFonts series originally started, kicking off this little blog on the BeNeLux side of FontShop. Although I am still toying with the idea of having ScreenFonts on Unzipped as a regular feature again, let’s first see if I manage to assemble enough interesting material on a monthly basis, without overlapping with its sister series on The FontFeed. So no real commitments yet, but one can dream.
Brace yourselves for a smörgåsbord of different languages (pun intended ;-) in the movie titles (don’t worry, I’ll translate them).
We kick off this reboot with a Canadian poster that somehow never made the list of U.S. releases on IMDB. The artwork for A l’ouest de Pluton (West of Pluto) harkens back to the DIY aesthetics of punk. Back in the days before the democratisation and subsequent omnipresence of the personal computer, reproducing and creating art on a low budget made people inventive. If you couldn't afford fancy high-end repro, you just made do with whatever means you had at your disposal. The true artists amongst designers turned what might have been perceived as a handicap into an artistic device, producing memorable imagery with basic office appliances like copy machines. By experimenting with the settings of those machines, and gradually “degrading” photographs and art by repeatedly making copies of copies, a gritty high contrast image quality was obtained that was both recognisable and striking. In this poster the combination of this black-and-white treatment of the photograph in combination with the bold red area results in a memorable and energetic image.
A by-product of these photocopy experiments spawned a whole movement in grunge typography – degraded, distressed type. Ironically the advent of computers and affordable font creation software subverted this trend. Whereas the degradation made every single letter unique, in most digital versions of these alphabets repeating letters are identical. What’s even more ironic is that people now used hundreds and sometimes thousands dollars worth of computer material to produce typography that had to look low-end and cheap. However the fonts themselves are inexpensive, so they still are a perfect alternative if you want to mimic this visual style in design applications. And if you really insist on having that typical random feel, you can always use a similar extra bold compact sans serif and apply my tutorial on The FontFeed to make it appear authentically degraded (English version, the original Dutch version can be found here on Unzipped).
I suppose the typeface in this particular poster is a free font, so probably with limited punctuation and no foreign accents nor special characters. Setting it white with a butch black drop shadow and at random angles following the movement of the jumping skater adds to the dynamism of the overall design. And having all the small type reversed out of the red, squeezed between the edge of the poster, the horizon, and the skater’s lower back is a very efficient solution.
The English language poster applies the same graphic treatment on a completely different design. Less dynamic, more punk, equally good.
The premise for the Greek drama ΚυνÏδοντας (Dogtooth) looks very intriguing and rather twisted. Unfortunately none of this comes across in this movie poster. It looks like the cinematic equivalent of a Peter Saville album cover, and to be honest I wouldn’t know what this graph-like art is, nor what it is supposed to refer to. Or is it just me being dense? The movie title in all caps Times is perfectly in tune with the minimalistic design (which doesn’t necessarily mean that I condone its use, mind you).
The alienating atmosphere in this movie is successfully foreshadowed in this stylised poster design, which gives us a little more information than the original design. Because of its simple composition and pale colour scheme the photograph almost looks like a water colour painting. One may argue that it isn’t ideal as a movie poster, yet as a design it works beautifully well.
What a contrast! Isolating the girl in the water and adding condensed black type with strong black borders in bright orange boxes turns this alternate design into an eye-popping poster. The typeface is Morris Fuller Benton’s 1903 classic Alternate Gothic, a perennial favourite with book cover designers. This very condensed straight-sided face thematically fits in the larger family of Trade/News Gothics that were re-imagined by Cyrus Highsmith as Benton Sans, the extensive family available from the Font Bureau.
On the one hand typographically speaking this poster is far less good that the preceding variant. Seeing Futura Condensed used in whatever context always makes me vomit in my mouth a little. I have absolutely no patience for this farce of a font. The photograph on the other hand is suitably eerie, so with a better informed choice of type this might have been a great poster.
I only included this poster for French thriller Insoupçonnable (Above Suspicion) to prove that – yes indeed – although the legendary Gavin Berliner may be an undisputed master at this particular technique, we Europeans also know how to do floating heads, bitchiz. The blue duotone image almost makes this design acceptable. Although all the smaller credits are set in the inevitable Trajan, very tightly set Times does the honours for the movie title in this poster as well.
I don’t get it why in this day and age there are still people distorting type. It has become a mantra, one of the basics of any list of tips and tricks or tutorial for digital type. I can understand it to a certain extent, when the available space is tight in every direction, and you really really need to fill it as effectively as possible. But on the movie poster for French/Belgian documentary Terre d’usage there are no such limitations. I can't see any reason why whoever was responsible for this couldn’t slightly increase the type size and adjust the position of the typography, instead of stretching FF DIN (or is it the original DIN 1451 Mittelschrift)?
And frankly I would’ve preferred they had used a different composition, optimally using any or all of the three areas in that photograph: the brown back of the jacket, the reddish soil on the lower right-hand side, and the blue sky. Making the type as big as possible and smearing it over the integral width of the canvas negates the composition of the picture, resulting in a static and uninteresting design.
It is not entirely without problems, but I quite like the poster for German/French/Austrian movie Zanan-e bedun-e mardan (Women Without Men). The top part is glorious, with the woman entirely dressed in black placidly looking directly at the viewer, with a sense of melancholy to her. This is in stark contrast with the men surrounding her, all dressed in white, fists raised and fervently shouting towards the right. The pale hues, with desaturated blues and skin tones, lend the photograph a slightly surrealistic, almost dreamlike quality. The greyish blue band with the critics’ quotes blend into the image quite beautifully.
The panoramic photograph that fades in at the bottom third of the poster works well as a container for most of the text matter. Movie title and credits occupy the entire sky area in the bottom image, accentuating its horizontal composition and drawing the attention to the two female silhouettes walking down the road. It's just a shame FF DIN Condensed (or is it the original DIN 1451 Engschrift?) is a bit of an uninspired choice for the typography.
The Belgian/Dutch drama Adem (Oxygen) was outfitted with a Modernist poster. It has a clear and straightforward structure, the photograph forming the top square, and right-aligned all caps Helvetica in the pristine white bottom part. That red gradient filling the movie title – a reference to the red sweater – is a wee bit cheesy. Though it is not exactly my thing, the overall design is quite efficient. And if you really have to design a poster in the International Style, why not go for the original Basic Commercial/Standard, or try something less obvious like FF Bau or ARS Region for example?
This subdued poster for the French movie (based on true events) Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men) is just right. It is neither spectacular nor ground-breaking, but that’s not always necessary. Having the protagonists sitting at the table, very low, in the bottom third of the poster, brings home the concept of men in service of God. This impression is strengthened by the bright sunlight coming through the windows and reflected on the wall, whose golden hues lend the scene a majestic aura.
Thankfully no Trajan in sight. Whereas Trajan is based on letters carved in stone, the soft and elegant Goudy Oldstyle has a more literary appearance, referring to the printed word of God in the Bible. The large wall area leaves ample room for a calm, balanced, and appropriate typographic composition. A delightful poster.
The Italian psychological thriller La Doppia Ora (The Double Hour) makes equally good use of structure. The lead actress peeking from behind a translucent glass pane sets the right mood. As this pane frees up three quarter of the poster’s width, blurring and reducing the contrast of what’s behind it, it makes perfect sense to use that real estate for the movie title. Yet the poster goes one step further. Instead of having them in flat colour, the letters set in Basic Commercial/Standard interact with the translucent glass, suggesting an additional layer of transparency.
The French poster is radically different. It is obviously inspired by the work of Saul Bass – most notably Anatomy of A Murder – and Eastern European posters from the 1970s – the symbolism of the red rose piercing the body, and the drop of blood echoing the blood red petals. Paper-cut letters provide the finishing touch.
See, this is one of the reasons why I like living in Europe, more specifically in Belgium. Make no mistake, there are many reasons why I would like to live in other countries, but that’s irrelevant to the issue at hand. Here we have no problems with “functional nude” – I don't know if this translates correctly. In the context of the poster for Mexican drama Año bisiesto (Leap year) the nudity in the photograph refers to a crucial scene in the movie, encapsulating the whole storyline in one ambiguous image – is it sexy, or is there something more sinister at play? Sure, there are other ways to promote this film, but this one is an equally valid option, and an appropriate one considering the theme of the movie. Thank gawd we don’t have all those hysterical hypocrites that throw a fit every time they catch a glimpse of a nipple or some pubic hair.
The alternate (original?) Mexican poster shows a radically different approach. Although the illustration is cartoony, this poster is much more confrontational. We understand immediately that, no, it is not sexy but rather sinister indeed. As always the basic black, white, and red colour scheme works wonders. The type is much more interesting. I think it must be a font – repeating characters are identical – but I wouldn’t know what this rough square sans could be.
Now this is a decent alternative for the floating heads/ensemble cast movie poster. The title for the Belgian tragicomedy Maternelle (Motherly) applies to both the nursery school the movie is situated in (“école maternelle” in French), and the ghost of the recently deceased mother that visits the protagonist. The slightly crumpled paper with photographs stuck on them refers to the school setting. It gives the poster a cute appearance with added dimensionality.
Unfortunately the child-like hand printed script is poorly chosen. The letter shapes are crudely vectorised, and the identical repeating characters make it overly obvious this is not hand written at all. I would have preferred if they had chosen either a true digital school script, or a hand printed script with a degree of randomness like FF Duper to make it look more natural.
Don’t be fooled by the appearances. At first sight it may look pretty OK, but the poster for British director Stephen Frear’s comedy Tamara Drewe is just another cobbled up Photoshop cut’n’paste image. The very sharp cutouts give it an artificial feel. The crowded an illogical composition is an attempt at cramming in as many characters as possible and inject some story elements in the poster. Those Frankenstein creations never sit well with me. I guess the hand drawn rendition of Franklin Gothic is supposed to lend it an indie atmosphere, yet it really falls short. A more cohesive approach wouldn’t have hurt.
I find the structure of the poster for Swiss movie Un Autre Homme (Another Man) very interesting. Together with the tilted yellow area, the densely set type creates the illusion of a second rectangular canvas on top of the original one. Though it’s a deceptively simple device, it’s structurally sound and very effective. The type could be either News Gothic Extra Condensed, Trade Gothic Condensed, or Alternate Gothic – the exact typeface is a bit hard to identify because the differences are so minute. I mean, I could, eventually, but do we really care?
Ouch, I am embarrassed the family drama Vreemd bloed (The Odd One Out) is a Dutch movie. As far as typesetting goes this movie poster is pretty bad. Nobody in his/her right mind would apply negative tracking on a connected script like Bickham Script. It looks terrible, with the characters squashed against each other and the connecting lines, well, not connecting the letters. There also seems to be something wrong with the serif face underneath. It looks as if a stroke was added and the type horizontally stretched. Add to this the scaling of both the first and the last letter, but to different sizes to boot, and I simply cannot tell what this typeface could be.
The Bosnia Herzegovinian/German/Croatian production Armin squarely adopts a no-frills cinéma vérité style on its movie poster. What it loses in sleekness, it gains in veracity. FF Kipp – Claudia Kipp’s intelligent layered typeface inspired by wood type printing – still enjoys popularity after over fifteen years, so it is normal it received the Pro treatment when it was converted to OpenType a while ago. It’s a shame only a small minority use it as it was intended to be, with layers.
The feature-length documentary Benda Bilili! is the account of the road to fame and international success travelled by Staff Benda Bilili (in English “See Beyond”), a group of street musicians in Congo-Kinshasa consisting of five paraplegics and an able-bodied teenager. The poster almost seems to promote a western, with its wood type-like slab serif and the ragtag band of musicians riding their motorised steeds.
The French version of the poster runs the risk of overcrowding due to the multitude of photo fragments. Surprisingly everything is kept in check, partially because those fragments are all contained roughly in a star shape. The different scales of the photographs, with the arms of the large character at the top of the star kind of embracing all of them, helps as well. The tagline at the top is set in Garage Gothic.
This is a nice alternative to the obligatory horizontal bands which are customary for American romantic comedies. On the poster for French movie Happy few a border of photographs frames the type, creating a mini-poster within the poster. And that type is not Didot for once. Fair enough, ITC Avant Garde Gothic is not exactly revolutionary, but it is a nice change. My only qualm is that the tagline Aimez qui vous voulez would’ve looked a lot better with some judiciously placed alternates.
This is a weird typeface on a weird photograph. On the poster for L’amour fou – the documentary on the relationship between fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his lover, Pierre Bergé – the former almost looks like a wax doll, his eyes transfixed in a vacant stare. The rounded sans has a very high crossbar on the “A”, whose overall shape is too narrow, and the “L” and “F” look quite wide. This could be either an amateur font, or a design by one of the lesser gods. For an almost identical effect Estilo for example would’ve been a perfect quality alternative.
It is fascinating to witness the irresistible attraction Rosewood Fill exerts on poster and album sleeve designers – here on the poster for French historical action drama Hors-la-loi (Outside the law). The absence of the ornamental outer shapes of this decorative wood type design make the characters look awkward and a little out of balance. Maybe that’s what beguiles the hordes of slavish followers: the imperfection, reflection of an equally imperfect humanity in the face of the cold and systematic digital world. On a general note the warm golden brown hues nicely match the period atmosphere conjured up by the poster image and the vintage-looking typography.
And to conclude this episode, a tender moment on this poster for the Belgian movie Turquaze. It’s a quiet, unassuming design with subtle hints to the movie’s story. The wide grotesque used for the movie title and main credits doesn’t seem to match any of the designs in our FontList. I am starting to suspect it could be Engravers Bold with a stroke added – that’s the only typeface with sharp corners on the “Z” and such a high crossbar on the “R” and “A”. Though I am not sure if that drop shadow was really indispensable, I don’t really mind it in this poster.