Many great filmmakers never got the posters their films deserved. Some of my favorite filmmakers—I'm thinking Yasujiro Ozu, Jacques Rivette, Mike Leigh, and Jean-Marie Straub, to name just a few—for one reason or another, whether it be the vagaries of distribution, the particulars of time and the place, or just the fact that what is so extraordinary about their filmmaking doesn’t translate to still images, have very few posters worthy of their reputation. Jean-Pierre Melville is not one of those. Undoubtedly, the archetype of Melville’s cinema—the trench-coat and fedora sporting, pistol touting tough guy—lends himself beautifully to graphic invention. But Melville made other kinds of films too, and somehow the posters for his entire 13-film oeuvre are an embarrassment of riches. It didn’t hurt that the great French poster artist, Raymond Gid, who made only a handful of posters for the cinema, painted two of his greatest works for two of Melville’s early (and non-gangster) films Le silence de la mer and Léon Morin, Priest.
In recognition of his centenary (he was born October 20, 1917) there is a retrospective of Melville’s work currently running at Film Forum in New York. I have decided to choose my favorite poster for each of his films, which wasn’t always easy, but I’m happy to see it has resulted in a collection of posters from not just France but also Japan, Argentina, Romania, Belgium, Poland and Cuba.
Posters courtesy of Posteritati, Heritage Auctions, KinoArt and CineMaterial. The Melville retrospective runs through May 11. Don’t miss it.