Of all the films I saw at Cannes last year, the one that I couldn't stop talking up, and yet at the same time didn’t want to say too much about, was a little British thriller which I caught in a small screening room in the market. I’d already seen Ben Wheatley’s previous film, Down Terrace—a film rightly summarized as Mike-Leigh-meets-The-Sopranos—and liked it a lot, so I was expecting his unique blend of kitchen sink dialogue-driven comedy and genre shenanigans. But that didn’t prepare me for Kill List, a film that does start in a kitchen, if I remember rightly—with a young couple arguing about paying bills—and ends deep in the heart of darkness. Do yourself a favor and don’t read anything more about this film (apart from this spoiler-free article of course) and just see it. Unless you’re very squeamish, in which case you should probably run a mile. (It opens today in New York and L.A. and is already available on VOD, though seeing it with an audience is highly recommended.)
IFC’s official poster for the film, based on the British quad, is a respectable piece, full of dread and mystery, but it wasn’t until I saw Mondo’s alternative poster for the film this week that I felt I had something to write home about (click on the image above to see it in all its glory). Designed by Denver-based artist Jay Shaw—a.k.a. Iron Jaiden—and printed in a limited edition of 100 which will go on sale on February 23rd, the poster is quite unlike the Mondo “house style,” if there is such a thing.
I’m a great admirer of Mondo’s posters, and have previously written about their designs by Tyler Stout and Olly Moss. I am consistently blown away by the artistry and technical skill of the likes of Tom Whalen, Martin Ansin and Ken Taylor, even when the end result is not always my cup of tea. But whereas many Mondo posters have a strong comic book feel to them, Shaw’s Kill List poster reminds me more of great Polish movie posters of the 60s and 70s: it is simple, strange, allusive and oblique, a poster that grabs you instantly and then makes you look again because you’re not even sure what it is you’re looking at.
I decided I had to know more about this artist and so I tracked him down and asked him about his influences and his process with this poster. Interspersed with my questions are some of Shaw’s other recent movie poster work, all of it equally striking and original.
NOTEBOOK: Your poster has a Polish movie poster feel to it. Were those posters an influence on you at all?
JAY SHAW: Oh absolutely. I've been studying mid-century Polish and Czech poster art for quite a while now. I am in love with that school of design. Wiktor Gorka's brilliant Cabaret poster might be the crown jewel of my collection.
NOTEBOOK: How do you think your style differs from that of other Mondo artists?
SHAW: Mondo works with a handful of poster artists who prefer literal illustrative interpretations over figurative ones. Folks like Ken Taylor, Martin Ansin and Tyler Stout approach movies as a medium with an established set of visuals with which to work. If you remove the titles from any of their posters you would instantly recognize the film. These guys just happen to be so incredibly talented that the posters they produce almost always eclipse the film’s original theatrical art. Obviously my approach to poster art is quite different. I prefer to take in a film the way you would a novel. When I’m working on a poster I try to visualize ideas and themes rather than characters or settings. That's the method the Poles have perfected over the years and one I hope to emulate with even moderate success in my work.
My favorite Mondo poster of all time is the outstanding Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Heads of State. You could’ve told me that was a Klimowski piece and I wouldn’t second guess it.
NOTEBOOK: Can you talk about some of your thinking behind the Kill List design and how you set about capturing that amazing film? Did you have a lot of different ideas?
SHAW: I had tons of ideas for this one. The film is so rich thematically. It’s also a very open ended narrative so you really can interpret its underlying concepts in a lot of different ways. The first idea was pretty close to the final poster. A very loosely gestured Jay holding his face in agony (and shame and regret and confusion). Mondo liked that one but they wanted to see the idea fleshed out a bit. I also had a few goofy ideas. One had a symbol carved into the shell casings of a bunch of bullets and another featured a hammer mangled into the shape of an inverted cross. Those were rightly rejected fairly quickly. There was one more where each of the “victims” was scratched off a list with the film’s title worked into the list itself. The very famous and very handsome Rob Jones liked that idea so I combined the first two concepts into the final poster. Being a British film it made sense to set this one up in quad format (actual poster size notwithstanding).
NOTEBOOK: One poster that immediately came to mind when I saw your design (and maybe made me think of Polish posters in general) was Waldemar Swierzy’s 400 Blows. Was that an influence?
SHAW: Man I love that 400 Blows poster. Just gorgeous. But I don’t think that one had any influence on this design. Possibly subconscious but the columns falling over are meant to represent the mounting weight on Jay’s psyche as he works his way through the list. I felt like the focus should be a man wrestling with his personal demons.
NOTEBOOK: Thanks for taking the time to talk. By the way, how long have you been doing this?
SHAW: I’ve been designing posters for a little over a year. I went to college for design many many moons ago but only recently decided to use it for something other than a cautionary tale about wasting money.
For more of Shaw’s work visit his website www.kingdomofnonsense.com, (just as soon as he’s finished redesigning it which should be any day now).