ScreenFonts: Hell Baby, A Single Shot, Muscle Shoals, Dark Touch

However immensely enjoyable and informative it was, my week attending ATypI 2013 Amsterdam threw a serious monkey wrench in my publishing schedule. Let’s just say the conference was very intensive. Getting immersed in such a torrent of specialised information on type and typography plus having countless conversations with fellow type geeks leaves little room for anything else – I arrived Tuesday late at night, the conference started on Wednesday morning 9:00 and it basically went on non-stop until Sunday afternoon 16:00. The majority of the talks were of the twenty-minute variety, which means I have two to three times as much material to go through. There are miscellaneous reports coming up, but right now I am taking a wee break (British colloquialism for “a small break”, not “a break to go …” oh, whatever) to publish the latest episode of ScreenFonts.

It is very rare that we feature French artwork on The FontFeed. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with French movie poster designers – they either produce quite interesting leftfield designs, or they get it totally wrong. Most often uninspired typography plays a big role in this, as the same tired old typefaces keep coming back like friggin’ zombies from hell, no matter how many times you bash in their capitals. However the international poster for French comedy Populaire stays clear of the umpteenth regurgitation of Eurostile Extended/Microgramma or Impact/Helvetica Inserat so typical for many a French “affiche de film”.

Paris-based art director and graphic designer Julien Lemoine picked Carol Twombly’s Nueva, one of Adobe’s “designed-for-Multiple-Master-interpolation” typefaces from the early to mid-nineties. The casual display serif is the perfect stylistic complement to the 50s-style image in his one sheet for creative studio Rageman. Julien also shares a couple of alternative designs on his Behance page for the movie with some nice retro-looking scripts like Monoment and Phospho Type Foundry’s Luxus Brut in supporting roles. For more options check Sudtipos’ exquisite Bluemlein Collection, and the Filmotype collection also has a great selection of vintage scripts.

A comedy of a whole other calibre is the outrageous horror satire Hell Baby. It has a amateurish-looking over-slick Photoshop disaster as main poster, courtesy of The Cimarron Group (which incidentally shuttered barely two months ago after over 30 years of service – no no, they didn’t close shop over this laughable design). It boggles the mind that the radically different and rather fun alternate poster pictured above comes from the same agency. Its flat stylised graphics and retro lettering/typography echo early-to-mid twentieth century poster design. For some bizarre reason the simple red and black scheme and hand-painted blackletter make me think of German propaganda posters from the World Wars. The yellowed paper and period-correct geometric slab serif Rockwell Extra Bold make the artwork look even more authentic.

The movie poster for Snake and Mongoose is another retro design, but referencing the more recent seventies. I quite like the treatment of the images and the colour scheme, the typography not so much. The Compacta-like oblique display sans tries a little too hard yet fails to convince me, Helvetica Condensed for the tagline is an uninspired choice, and the static letter forms of Gill Sans Condensed don’t belong on a poster based on the concept of speed.

I prefer the choice of Futura display with rounded corners for the movie title on the alternate poster, however Gotham is an anachronism. The image treatment in this version is atrociously poor.

We move two decades closer with the original poster for Weekender (let’s graciously ignore the blandified US one sheet). Although the choice of Neue Helvetica 93 Black Extended Oblique is not a very exciting one, I like the modifications – the split ‘W’, the ‘K’ and the ‘D’ cutting into the neighbouring ‘E’s – that were introduced to allow for an extremely tight setting of the movie title. When it comes to Helvetica though the new standard (pardon the pun) is Christian Schwartz impressively faithful recreation of Neue Haas Grotesk.

The interplay between image and typography as Carine Roitfeld steps through the giant knocked-out capital C on the movie poster for Mademoiselle C immediately reminded me of the beautiful (yet flawed) poster for I Am Love. The documentary focuses on the former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief and fashion stylist as she moves to New York to launch her own magazine, which makes the typography a little obvious yet ultimately very appropriate. Fashion magazines famously have a preference for the slender features of didones (I am pretty sure this one is Linotype Didot) and architectural capitals like the Art Deco-style geometric sans Neutraface.

More stylish typography in the moody poster for A Single Shot, a gothic backwoods noir following an indigent hunter whose world turns upside down after a tragic accident. The gorgeous design combines the treeline of the woods and their reflection in a body of water (a lake, a river?) to produce beautiful layering effects. Tree silhouettes are also used to introduce some subtle texture in the square character shapes of Bourgeois Condensed, one of the more interesting Bank Gothic alternatives.

The chiaroscuro character posters further expand on this visual language, forming a very nice, coherent suite or marketing collaterals.

This alternate poster was designed by Duncan Bone for the festival run of the film. It was used at the world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival as well as the North American premiere of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival. When I contacted him the London-based creative/art director explained that the image of the trees in the mist is from a frame of the film and speaks to the mysterious, gothic nature of the story. Ultimately the distributor knew this poster was good for the festivals its artful and moody quality, but in the end they had to create a poster for the commercial release selling the lead actor.

Duncan selected Monotype Modern Condensed for the movie title, main credits and review quotes as he felt it adds to the sense of tension and mystery without portraying any other emotions like ‘danger’ or ‘action’ when used with such a title. The idea is to draw the viewer to the image and keep them asking questions. Like the background, the type manages to say a lot without saying much. By using one single text-like typeface the design acquires a literary dimension, as this could just as well be a book cover instead of a film poster.

Shepard & Dark conjures up the concept of freedom and discovery through Wild West references on its movie poster. Turning the photograph into a colourised black-and-white image catapults the poster back at least a century, and the wood type-inspired typography further cements the vintage atmosphere. The wide slab serif looks like a narrower version of Blackoak, but I cannot make out if it was digitally condensed or if it is another typeface based on the same source. Notice how the ampersand was substituted the lovely chubby glyph from Cooper Black (not to be confused with the equally chubby ampersand from Goudy Heavyface).

Comparing the two posters for Mexican horror movie Somos lo que hay (We Are What We Are) – the suggestive poster on the left and the explicit one on the right – once again proves that subtlety gives far better results, as showing too much dumbs down the design and frankly is a little insulting towards the audience. The almost clinical scene on the left reminded me of the immaculately clean, empty refrigerator for The Jeffrey Dahmer Files earlier this year. Just like this worked so well for the documentary about the serial killer, the pristine white table cloth and dresses of the girls, and the squeaky clean tableware give the viewer an uneasy feeling. Although nothing explicit is shown, the realisation that something is very wrong with this family portrait slowly sinks in. After reading the movie title set in the distressed typewriter face and looking at the image more closely it doesn’t take long for the viewer to put two and two together and realise what the movie is about. Really, there simply is no need for the blood in the soup plates, for the bloody splatters all over the girls’ dresses and the father’s white shirt, for the bloody letters scratched on the table cloth. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, [n]o one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

The next two posters are examples of a style I think I haven’t seen for quite a while. Both use a mosaic of images and image fragments as a narrative device to try to tell the audience as much as possible about the films. What I like about the movie poster for the Filipino crime thriller On The Job is that the cut-out photos of the characters are allowed to cross over the boundaries of the squares in the grid, which gives the image depth and dynamism. The colour scheme is great: the immaculate white background and pure black-and-white portraits contrast beautifully with the petrol green and dark red of the squares. It’s probably just me, but those squares made me think of the image treatment on many of Reid Miles’ iconic Blue Note album covers. Unfortunately this fine design is marred by the typography which – as we say in Flanders – “looks like pliers on a pig”. The cheesy beveled extra bold sans serif lacks the refinement and class of the overall image. A crying shame.

The other mosaic poster is for Muscle Shoals, the documentary celebrating Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. Here the mosaic motif is used to showcase a number of legendary artists who feature in the documentary without having to resort to floating heads. Again the typography is a let-down – Futura lacks the swing and the rhythm one would associate with a music documentary, and that script used for the tagline is quite poor.

It’s refreshing to see an illustrated poster, not featuring Trajan for a horror movie (yes, I know there is one, but I choose to stubbornly ignore it; my prerogative, deal with it). The alternate one sheet for Dark Touch features an expressive and striking collage-like image in dirty yellow, black and grey. Moody and foreboding, it is a surprising graphic solution that borders on the cartoonesque – see the exaggerated flames and the “hand tree” shadow created by the girl standing in the window.. The grit in the silhouette shapes is carried over in the high-contrast letter forms of Didoni, URW’s version of the elusive Pistilli Roman. Although there still is no officially authorised revival, Jason Walcott’s Eloquent does sport all those delectable alternate characters and swatches.

The FontShop FontFeed

Leave a Comment