“We must confront vague ideas with clear images” (“Il faut confronter les idées vagues avec des images claires”), reads a graffito on the wall of the bourgeois apartment that is the setting for La chinoise. Jean-Luc Godard’s explosive 14th feature film (one of no less than three Godard masterpieces that were released in 1967), which Pauline Kael called “ a speed-freak’s anticipatory vision of the political horrors to come,” is getting a 50th anniversary re-release at the Quad Cinema in New York.
Is there any clearer image than that of Juliet Berto in red war paint, against a red wall, surrounded by a fort of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Books, pointing a machine gun at the camera? In 1964 Godard had famously said, quoting D.W. Griffith, that all filmgoers want is a girl and a gun. And that is what René Ferracci (1927-1982), the house designer of the Nouvelle Vague, gave filmgoers in this blood red affiche. Ferracci, who was usually more inventive and tended to work with photo-collage, was content here to simply use a still from the film overlayed with some no-nonsense chalkboard lettering (complete with misspelling of Anne Wiazemsky’s name). And the result is one of the most iconic of film posters.
The designer of the 1996 Japanese re-release poster, below, took the all-red motif a step further (though not all the way—the inset photos at the bottom a concession to conventionality).
But maybe the row of square photos was simply a nod to Kiyoshi Awazu (1929-2009)’s superb original Japanese poster which captures the cavalcade of (clear) images that is La chinoise, but which centers on Anne Wiazemsky with a pen (mightier than the sword?) rather than Juliet Berto with a gun.
I love the Italian due-fogli poster which is a throwback to the illustrated posters that Nouvelle Vague graphics and studio Ferracci had for the most past overthrown (though in Italy the traditional style survived a lot longer). I especially love that Chairman Mao is portrayed as the third star of the film.
But trust Hans Hillmann (1925-2014), the great iconoclastic German designer, to go against the grain with a poster that is all yellow and purple and which uses Ferracci’s photo but obscures Berto’s face with a giant yellow star.
And I don’t know who the author is of this wonderful screen-printed poster made for the “first American showings” of the film at U.C. Berkeley, where, in 1967, the film must have been received as manna from heaven.
To promote the revival, Kino Lorber has released three designs by Dylan Haley which hew to Godard’s mantra of clear images: a girl and a gun, a boy and a bow, and a girl and a pear.
La chinoise plays all week at The Quad.
Posters courtesy of Posteritati, CineMaterial and Kino Lorber. And thanks to the Cine-Tourist for this terrific article on Godard, Griffith, girls and guns.