This bold, strange poster for Georges Franju’s 1974 Nuits rouges is one of my all-time favorites, one I’d love to own, though I haven’t seen the film itself. There is something very contemporary (or at least end of last century) about its simple Helvetica tagline announcing “Le Nouveau Franju” and more especially its grid system credit block, also in Helvetica (which reminds me of Spiritualized’s 1997 CD, or the 1996 Trainspotting campaign). The letterman jacket typeface for the title is a bit of an anomaly, but the red letters nicely echo the stunning red mask looming over what at first glance seems to be a cityscape but which turns out to be a pile of crates.
I can’t decipher the artist’s name on the poster (running up the side of one of the crates) so if anyone recognizes it I’d love to know what it is. The red mask itself also harks back to Jean Mascii’s stunning blood red posters for Franju’s Eyes without a Face.
Franju is somewhat of a neglected figure these days, though much loved by those of us at the Notebook (where Daniel Kasman, David Cairns and Glenn Kenny have all written eloquently about him). Nuits rouges was his final feature film and though it harkens back to the silent mystery serials of Feuillade (via Franju’s own 1963 Feuillade hommage Judex) it was more directly based on a 1968 French TV series called Les compagnons de Baal which, like Nuits rouges and Judex, was written by Feuillade’s grandson Jacques Champreux. Masters of Cinema, who released Nuits rouges in a two-disc set with Judex, using the French poster for the reverse cover art, describe the film thus: “The object of pursuit is the fabled treasure of the mythical order of the Knights Templar — which the filmmakers use as the jump-off point for staging a series of fantastic set-pieces. As the Fantômas-esque arch-criminal (known only as ‘The Man Without a Face’, played by Jacques Champreux himself) violently pursues the treasure, the action intensifies amongst a cadre of post-‘68 bohemians, the Paris police bureau, and a cult of cowled conspirators.” There is a good clip from the film online, with American actress Gayle Hunnicutt doing her best Musidora.
According to this informative piece on the film, “two versions of the film were made – one for cinema...the other for television. The latter was broadcast in France in July-September 1975, in eight instalments of 55 minutes each. The two versions of the film were shot separately – on 35mm film for the cinema release, on 16mm for the TV version. When some of the 35mm film was lost (apparently stolen), the matching 16mm film was used in its placed, resulting in an obvious degradation of picture quality.”
Nuits rouges was released in the States in 1975 by New Line Cinema, in an English-dubbed version called Shadowman. Janet Maslin reviewed it in the New York Times, not entirely unfavorably, in 1979. New Line’s poster pitches it as a rollicking camp farce. (Also note the unattributed quote at the top and Gert Fröbe’s credit as “Gert [Goldfinger] Froebe.”)
The Germans, no doubt because of Fröbe, seem to have taken the film more seriously, retitling it, in a nod to Franju’s most famous film, The Man without a Face.
And the film seems to have had quite a life in Germany as these rather wonderful Super 8 and VHS covers for the film attest.
Though the film is not all that well known these days, it seems to have its ardent fans. Montreal electronica artist Michael Silver, a.k.a. CFCF, has adopted the red hood as part of his persona, and his video for the track “Crystal Mines” is a mash-up of clips from Nuits rouges.
Meanwhile, the San Sebastian Film Festival, which is honoring Franju with a retrospective this fall, is using a still from the film for their poster.
The festival also recently held a contest to design a poster for the festival itself. This, below, was one of the entries, the blurb for which said “On any festival day in San Sebastian we are all audience of spectacular sunsets, even Franju’s Shadowman, from the nuits rouges from Georges Franju whom the festival is paying tribute to this year.” Sadly it didn’t win.