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Movie Poster of the Week: The Lesser-Known Posters of Jean-Luc Godard

On the occasion of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s major retrospective, a smorgasbord of Godard posters.

To accompany the exhaustive retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard (49 programs in 21 days) that started as part of the New York Film Festival and runs through the end of October, I had planned to select my ten all-time favorite posters for Godard’s films. But when I sat down to the task and laid out the ten I’d chosen in front of me, the result was a selection of posters so overly familiar as to be banal. It looked like the postcard rack of any film bookstore in Paris. Much as I had hoped to choose less obvious designs, when it came down to it the posters created for Godard’s films in the 60s are hands down among the greatest film posters ever made: Clément Hurel’s Breathless, Chica’s Une femme est une femme, Jacques Vaissier’s Vivre sa vie, Georges Kerfyser’s Band à part and Une femme mariée,  René Ferracci’s Made in USA, Two or Three Things I Know About Her and La chinoise, Georges Allard’s Contempt, and, my favorite of all, Jean Mascii’s Alphaville. Coming at the time that he did, Godard profited from the tail end of the great tradition of French poster illustration (Mascii being among the greatest), and the new revolution in photo-montage spearheaded by Ferracci.

So, remove the all-stars and what does that leave? In the 70s Godard had all but abandoned conventional theatrical film distribution, hence fewer posters, and by the time he returned to it in the 80s, the quality of poster design had, in general, undeniably declined. 

But Godard has made 40 features and his films have been released all over the world, so there is a huge well to draw on of international designs and it isn’t hard to choose an additional twenty posters that are, at the very least, interesting.

While scouring the world for Godard posters I did notice one thing: while Godard may be the most avant-garde of popular filmmakers, the posters for his films do not in general aspire to the same level of experimentation. There is a sense of that in Ferracci’s cut-ups in the 60s, but overall the feeling conveyed by Godard’s designers in the early years is one of hipster cool. I get the feeling that with Godard being both major, and yet difficult for a general audience, there is an attempt by distributors and promoters to make his films look a little more conventional than they actually are. Kudos then to Cannon, distributors not known for their subtlety, for their brilliant King Lear poster at the top of the page. I love how Gerald Scarfe’s sketches nod to the notorious napkin contract for that film, whether that was the intention or not.

There are two more notable exceptions to the rule: Germany’s Hans Hillmann and Japan’s Kiyoshi Awazu, both of whom have endeavored to deconstruct Godard over the years, or at the least represent his special qualities in unusual, or very personal, ways. Here are Hillmann’s minimalist posters for Vivre sa vie, Masculin féminin and Weekend:

And here are Awazu’s colorful collage posters for La chinoise, Weekend and Vent d’est.

I didn’t include Ferracci’s La chinoise—a poster I’ll always remember hanging in the office of New Yorker Films when I worked there—in the best-of montage above, solely because of lack of space, but perhaps more than any other Godard film La chinoise seems to have inspired designers to push the corners of the envelope, as with this 1996 Japanese re-release:

Last year I wrote a piece about the various foreign posters for Alphaville, of which this Danish comic-style design is my favorite.:

And I wish I had seen this 1985 German poster for Détective when I did my recent post on the use of neon signs in movie posters.

Though I’m not a fan of the typewriter font, I do love this 2001 poster for In Praise of Love as one of the best of Godard’s later posters, and one that really captures the pixellated beauty of his digital work.

To go back in time, the black and white US original release poster for A Woman is a Woman is, to say the least, far less triumphantly feminist than its French counterpart in which Anna Karina balances Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Brialy in her hands. The US poster, which I present merely as a curio, reduces Godard’s muse to a winking, underdressed nymphet...

...while the Italian poster makes the film look like a torrid, Visconti-esque melodrama:

There are a number of other international posters for Godard which I enjoy for their wrong-headedness, for the way they seem to miss the mark or want to promote Godard as something he’s not. For example this sexed-up Mexican Masculin féminin...

Or this German Breathless (I have no idea what’s going on here with the two Belmondos)...

And then there’s the US Contempt, or should I say Contempt!... 

...and the Spanish Band à part which at least gets the joie de vivre of that film right...

To get back to more on-target designs, this Japanese Pierrot le fou wonderfully expresses the colorful, sun-drenched vibrancy of that film...

But at the other end of the color/fun spectrum, is one of the few posters that uses lettering with the same kind of witty yet blunt force that Godard revels in: the US release poster for one of Godard’s least compromising features, Numero Deux...

Another poster that uses lettering in an almost Godardian way is this 1982 French re-release poster for Sympathy for the Devil, here with its correct, original title...

Finally, one of my favorite Godard posters of the past twenty or thirty years is this US design by Kim Maley, for Notre musique. I wish I could find a better scan of it, though the grain adds to the desired effect.

I’m sure my readers will have many other favorites that I have missed here. Feel free to link to them in the comments below. 

One of my favorites I have hanging hugely in my bedroom: http://www.heyuguys.co.uk/images/2011/01/Le-Petit-Soldat-Poster.jpg
The US poster for “Contempt” is a perfect match for the mangled dubbed version – they even put Jack Palance’s head on Michel Piccoli! I have a slightly different version: same artwork, but the copy reads “More bold… More brazen… More Bardot!” I don’t know if this was ever on a poster, but I have an old flyer for a 16mm release of “Masculine Feminine” which describes it (via a quote from “Time”) as “a cubistic collage of the Go-Go generation!”
Great post Adrian… And nice choice to feature some lesser-known posters (but thanks for including your original top ten too). I have copies of those Hillmanns and one thing about the Vivre Sa Vie that you notice more in person (you can kinda see it in the image above) is that it has a distinct amorphous gradient in the background from light blue to cream to pink. I also think its neat that Hillmann made two other Godard posters with the same typeface and layout, but different image styles: A Woman is a Woman and Two or Three Things… And La Gai Savoir also uses the same typeface but gets more playful with the composition. (Sorry, no time to find any decent images to link, they’re all so small…) SS
Just like what a critic said once, Godard is “the Shakespeare of Cinema.”
Long live Godard!!!!!!!
Great post!
Pity they couldn’t have used this in the Film Socialisme poster: http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Cruise+Ship+Costa+Concordia+Runs+Aground+Off+aoVblB4Abz-l.jpg
Sam, I was actually thinking of saving the Hillmanns for a follow-up Hillmann-Godard post since he’s done so many but I could not find good sized scans of a lot of them. I actually don’t think I’ve seen his Two or Three Things ever.
Robert, that Contempt poster was a late find and I hadn’t registered that Palance’s head was on Piccoli’s body. Amazing. That’s creative advertising for you.
Great post, Adrian. I appreciate the depth of your research. I’m a big fan of the Kiyoshi Awazu and Hans Hillmann Godard posters, and have been thinking of writing something about the Hilmann Godard posters, too. There’s a decent-sized JPG of Hillmann’s poster for Le Gai Savoir here. and a terrible-quality JPG of his Two or Three Things I Know About Her poster here. There’s also one for Breathless here, and A Woman is a Woman here. As Sam observed, the Hilmann posters for Breathless, A Woman is a Woman, Vivre Va Vie and Le Gai Savoir are set Futura Extra Bold & Light, whereas Masculin-Féminin and Weekend appear to be in set in Akzidenz-Grotesk.
A minor correction: the Numero Deux poster is the British one, not US. Clues the X certificate and the late The Other Cinema as distributor.
Laura, thanks for the links (and font clarification). And Robert, thanks for the correction.

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