Index: movie posters

Claude Chabrol: 1930-2010

A selection of some fab posters for films by pioneering French director Claude Charbol, who died this week. (Some decent obits here, and here.) A giant of French cinema, Charbol was a founding member of the French New Wave, close pals with (and somewhat of a patron to) Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Éric Rohmer. Along with Rohmer he published a seminal critical work on Alfred Hitchcock, a significant influence.

Charbol was often described in shorthand as the French Hitchcock, which is pretty dead on, adjusting a bit for time periods and sensibilities. While not strictly a formulaic filmmaker, diabolical plots, melodrama, all manner of decadence, wry humor and a general wickedness abound.

For your consideration, a passel of recommendations from his extensive oeuvre: A Double Tour, 1961 – a convoluted noir, Who’s Got the Black Box?, 1967 – shaggy, but entertaining espionage yarn,  The Unfaithful Wife, 1969 and Innocents with Dirty Hands, 1975 two chilly, melodramatic physiological thrillers, Cop Au Vin, 1985, the first of two top drawer police procedurals featuring inspector Jean Lavardin, Masques, 1987 an intriguing character-driven mystery, The Swindle 1997, a neat little caper, Merci Pour Le Chocolat, 2000 about a wealthy family’s nest of secrets, and Comedy of Power, a corporate boardroom drama. Available here, or at your fine local video store.

To Die For

Can we take a moment to be gobsmacked by the art direction and costume design of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For? (written by the brilliant Buck Henry, in bowtie, above) Lurid, mean, lusty, sarcastic, and genuinely and absurdly fashionable in equal measure, just like the movie itself. Well worth digging up and re-watching, both for it’s delectable eye candy as well as the tart sweet taste of it’s sadly unexpired satiric cocktail —
~ 1 jigger of Hallmark
~ a generous splash of Maury Povich
~ 1 dash of vintage Vogue
~ fresh squeezed orange juice
~ two fingers carbolic acid.
Mix well and enjoy.


Irma La Douce

You’d expect the artwork for Irma La Douce to be top drawer. The pedigree is peerless – the 1963 comedy starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It was directed by Billy Wilder. This bawdy confection sits in the middle of one of the insanely great runs of film making, starting with 1957’s Witness for the Prosecution, continuing with Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Irma, the unjustly maligned Kiss Me, Stupid, The Fortune Cookie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, until 1972’s Avanti!

So yes, sharp stuff – stylish and well executed modernist film poster design. It’s the depiction of MacLaine, though, in each that just knocks your socks off.  The caricature developed for the American poster captures her essence perfectly. The typically lysergic Czech poster taps into her undercurrent of sultriness. If anyone ever deserved to be described as a cocktail, it was the young Shirley MacLaine – a fizzy syrup of pixie-ish mischievousness, good-natured lasciviousness, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart.

Viva Jane!

Heavy advertising squalls have cruelly delayed my hearty encomium to Jane Russell. The poster for 1955’s Underwater will have to serve – it’s a testament to the sheer strength of her primal appeal. She was a veritable cinematic Helen of Troy, driving Howard Hughes bonkers, launching project after project in her honor. The whole of Underwater starring Jane Russell? Just that  – Jane Russell in a swimsuit, underwater – a lusty notion begetting an entire film. Viva, viva Jane! (Poster via Pulp International – a site well worth your frequent perusal…)

Blake Edwards: 1922-2010

Few movie directors have given me more sheer pleasure than Blake Edwards, who died last week. I adore the widely underestimated 10 (1979), which over the decades has developed an undeserved and cheap reputation as merely a Bo Derek ogle-fest. Actually, it’s a sophisticated mid-life crisis farce, and perfectly illustrates the best of Edwards’ sensibility – witty, sharp, smart, brilliantly physical, elegant, bracingly vulgar, lusty, and really, really, really funny. I never tire of watching the Party (1968), Edwards’ monument to Peter Sellers’ gifts as a mimic and physical comedian (the inclusion of the fetching Claudine Longet doesn’t hurt either)

He is just as rewarding in other modes besides comedy – Experiment in Terror (1962) is a tightly wound little thriller with an ace soundtrack; Darling Lili (1969) is a fascinating passion project, a epic melodramatic spy musical starring his wife-to-be, Julie Andrews. Lili was mangled by studio interference, an experience that then inspired S.O.B. (1981), one of the great venomous Hollywood satires, starring the magnificent Richard Mulligan, from TV’s Soap.

Above all, though, I cherish the first two Clouseau flicks, The Pink Panther (1963)and Shot in the Dark (1964). (Even the trailers for these films, here & here, are fantastic.) They are supreme achievements – cathedrals of hilarity – that elicit laughter so pure, so hearty that they re-affirm, I think, something of the miracle of human existence.

Blow up Blow out

Some years ago I attended an evening of mime by Marcel Marceau, an elaborate exercise in aesthetic purification during which the audience kept applauding its own appreciation of culture and beauty, i.e., every time they thought they recognized what was supposed to be going on.

So begins Pauline Kael’s Tourist in the City of Youth – a comprehensive take-down of the circus of bullshit in, and in the wake of, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Published in The New Republic in 1967, it’s a thrilling, bracing read, swinging from one exquisite demolition to the next.

She nails the hypocrisy of “highbrow” art’s seeming disdain for pop culture while simultaneously drawing strength and vitality from it. I adore her reminder that, for all the easy moralizing, the frisky, colorful, grass infused Mod scene the movie depicts seems, if not harmless, more than a little, um… fun… A big chunk of the essay dismantles the cheap profundity of lazy symbols, easy targets, and disingenuous critics:

People seem awfully eager to abandon sense and perspective and humor and put on the newest fashion in hair shirts; New York critics who are just settling into their upper-East Side apartments write as if they’re leaving for a monastery in the morning… a surprising lot of people seem willing to accept assumptions such as: the fashion photographer is symbolic of life in our society and time; he turns to easy sex because his life and ours is empty, etc. Mightn’t people like easy sex even if their lives were reasonably full? And is sex necessarily empty just because the people are strangers to each other, or is it just different? And what’s so terrible about fast, easy success? Don’t most of the people who cluck their condemnation wish they’d had it?

Aces, just aces. The whole thing is a masterpiece of dense, sharp, and admirably personal criticism, sure, but given its scope and depth it’s practically an aesthetic and cultural manifesto. She’s arguing, as always, for honesty and passion, yes – but what she’s really getting at, what she finds unforgivable, is the emotional distance, the “knowing” disconnection in both filmmakers and critics from their ostensible subject. “Love-hate is what makes drama not only exciting but possible,” and what she loathes, justly, is the lack of love.

ABOVE: absolutely killer cover art for Kael’s perfectly titled 1968 collection of criticism, and the iconic poster for Blow Up (more on its graphic significance here.)


Absolutely stunning Japanese movie poster for Pasolini’s bewildering art house head scratcher, Teorema.