Welcome to week three of the countdown, numbers 80 – 71 are on the menu for today. My blurbs are going to be a little more brief than usual (probably a good thing) because it’s finals week here on campus, and students and professors alike are rushing to wrap up their work before the break. I’m swamped preparing the design students’ work for all of our end-of-semester competitions — if only it were as easy as grading.
Stranger on the Third Floor is most often credited with being the first film to visually and thematically exploit the noir style, though enthusiasts often debate the issue. Although the poster is done in the classic style, it embodies the paranoia and alienation that are the hallmarks of film noir. My major qualm is that the accusatory hand pointing at all of those nervous faces above might cause some viewers to believe this is a simple whodunit murder mystery. Nevertheless, the faces are so vividly expressionist and well rendered — especially that of Peter Lorre — there’s little to complain about. I wish the title typography didn’t cover up some of the faces — if it didn’t this may have placed higher.
Side Street too high, rather than too low. The Granger / O’Donnell illustration is very reserved compared to that seen on many of the other entries — something I appreciate. There’s a quiet elegance here that I really wanted to reward, along with the use of the sign motif that we’ll see again on the poster for Detour — very iconic for film noir. Once again I’m pleased with a strong diagonal composition, divided in half by the sign pole. However, I find the photographic imagery to the left of the sign disappointing. It’s awkwardly presented, with halftones that are somehow lighter than the surrounding blue-purple background. Such gray shadows aren’t very seductive, and instead give the poster a cheap, unfinished look that almost wrecks it. I think we’d have a better design if those images could be removed, and the “fate dropped…” tag shifted into that area.
Detour will tell you that he and Savage are anything but. Nevertheless, this scores gigantic points for the use of the street sign imagery — and unlike the Side Street poster the designer was able to turn the warning stripes into a frame that holds the entire composition together. The interior imagery is nicely composed from illustrated movie stills, yet I’m having a hard time getting past the inexplicable white space left between the clarinet player’s arms. On the plus side, note how well the artist has used overlapping to integrate the frame and street sign with the artwork — it’s subtle but effective. Finally, you just can’t go wrong with a street lamp, even if it is in color. An interesting, and successful, artistic attempt to translate the beams of light into stylized forms.
The Glass Key than fisticuffs.
Confidential magazine: the colors, inset photographs, and of course, the ‘violators’ (sorry, that’s design-speak — I don’t know what else to call them!) at the top right all scream Confidential. Directed by W. Lee Wilder (the great Billy Wilder’s brother, believe it or not), this is a true low-budget gem. It’s actually not as trashy as the poster suggests, but I still recommend this — it’s available as a bargain DVD. What a great central photo, with its vivid reds and blues — but one question: what in the world is up with the bongo player?!
The Garment Jungle more than holds its own in terms of artistic merit. Voyeurism is a recurring theme in film noir (as we’ll see again in a few weeks), so the peep hole style image of the model either dressing or getting undressed is certainly in keeping with the noir milieu; but it’s the scissors that make this poster so fascinating. The hand / scissors combo is potent in so many ways: it adds spatial depth; it “cuts” the picture plane diagonally, providing edges that typography aligns to; it creates a negative space that holds a tagline and small action-image; and finally it integrates with the background image and the nice little garment tag that holds the title of the film — not to mention the suggestion of violence. Notice also how that negative “white” space reinforces the angle and shape of the model’s body — that’s no accident! The designer has gotten a ton of mileage out of a single image device here, and note how scary the thing is: look at those fingers!
Until next week…right-click away!