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Movie Poster of the Week: The Alamo Roadshow Posters of Olly Moss

The biggest news in movie posters this past week seems to have been the release of the striking series of Saul Bass-inspired duo-chrome posters for the Alamo Drafthouse’s 2010 Rolling Roadshow series. As readers of this column will know, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX has in recent years become the patron saint of movie poster design, commissioning insanely talented illustrators to design new posters for retro screenings. With the Rolling Roadshow, they take their show on the road, screening films in the places they were shot, starting with Jackie Brown in the shadow of LAX (not the Del Amo Fashion Mall in Torrance as originally planned), and ending on a rooftop near Little Italy, NYC, with The Godfather Part II.

The 2010 posters were all designed by Olly Moss, a young British designer/illustrator with top-notch skills and heaps of wit. Check out the tire treads on his poster for Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy, made out of big rigs and, if I'm not mistaken, rubber ducks ("Rubber Duck" being Kris Kristofferson’s CB radio handle). And his Rocky poster turns the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where the film will be screened) into Rocky’s own triumphant shadow. Check out Moss’s website to see a lot more of his work, including a couple of superb Star Trek posters. I especially like the work he files under “Personal Nonsense” in his Design section. All of his work is simple, clean, precise and stealthily brilliant. Just how I like it.

The Alamo Roadshow posters are born out of two prevailing trends: the ongoing (and perfectly understandable) love for Saul Bass among poster designers (check out posters for Precious, Burn After Reading and the upcoming Buried) and a newer phenomenon: the fan poster. These are posters that are popping up all over the internet, created by talented designers in their down time. Like the Alamo posters they are all reimagined designs for old films (Moss has done some previously—check out “Films in Black and Red” on his site) and they tend towards the synecdochally minimalist, taking an element from the film to stand in for the whole (a shower drain for Psycho, a pair of y-fronts for Boogie Nights). Some are wittier and more beautifully rendered than others. My favorites include the gorgeously hued posters of Toronto-based designer Ibraheem Youssef (see his Life Aquatic below): the smart “Spoiler” posters and “Minimalist Superhero” posters of Israeli designer Gidi Vigo; the inspired minimalism of British designers Jamie Bolton (see his Shining below—using just the pattern of the carpet in the Overlook hotel) and Matt Needle (with his matching Hitchcock series); and the more intricate designs of one Mr Bluebird (aka Brazilian designer Mario Graciotti) who specializes in reworking the posters of Paul Thomas Anderson (his are the Boogie Nights underpants) as well as Hitchcock and Pixar. One of my favorites of all is this brilliant design for Coffee and Cigarettes which cannily incorporates both elements of the title into an ampersand. If anyone knows who designed that poster, or knows of other equally worthy series of fan posters, please let me know.

Postcript: I’ve been told that the Coffee and Cigarettes poster is by one Viktor Hertz, whose flickr feed features some great movie poster mash-ups (Tolstoy Story anyone?).

I’d highly recommend Moss’ Films in Black and Red series. His poster for The Great Dictator is kind of a masterpiece.
I wrote up a long piece on the minimalist movie poster trend earlier this year (http://samsmyth.blogspot.com/2010/05/olly-moss-and-minimalist-movie-poster.html) and was somewhat critical of these kinds of posters, and I’ve only grown more tired of them since then. Yes, many of them are clever and a few of them are even well made. But I’ve come to decide, at least for myself, that a shape thrown on a background color does not equal a great poster. You’ve posted a few good ones here, but if you follow these posters just beyond that threshold, they start to get embarrassingly amateurish and poorly thought out. What does the Shining’s carpet pattern really say about The Shining? Food for thought. I don’t think Olly Moss’ great posters came from this trend, but rather inadvertently started it. I’m all for movie posters, creativity, and play, I just think this trend has gone to far.
I should add/clarify that I do think these 2 new Olly Mosses that you posted are awesome, and a clear cut above so many others within the trend.
Sam, somehow I missed your excellent post, and had I seen it I probably wouldn’t have written this one. I refer everyone to Sam’s piece which has a lot of work I missed. I certainly did not realize that Olly Moss may actually have kick-started the minimalist movie poster trend, in which case I admire the guy even more. I wasn’t suggesting he was copying anyone with his Alamo posters, just that he is part of a much bigger scene. While I agree that some minimalist movie posters can be lazy and obvious, I think the designers you and I featured are doing terrific work. Some range from a simple wink (the headless horse Godfather poster for example) to something much more elaborate (Ibraheem Youssef’s work especially); some may take 30 minutes to put together, and others may take a week; some give you a chuckle and some you’d want to hang on your wall, but since these are all born out of a love of movies and design I think they all have value. (It is noticeable, however, how the same filmmakers keep cropping up: Hitchcock, Tarantino, PT Anderson, Wes Anderson, Kubrick, Nolan. I’ve yet to see any MMPs for Sirk or Bresson or Ozu). Someone in your comments mentions gig posters and there is a definite connection between MMPs and gig posters. I’ve said before that I’m amazed at the wealth of talent in the gig poster world that doesn’t seem to find it’s way into the movie poster world. But here’s the reason: OK, a graphic of the carpet pattern from The Shining doesn’t sell you the film, nor does it tell you one single thing about it. It is just a nod and a wink to fans of the film, but beautifully done. I think the best current gig posters work in the same way although they can be even more abstract, having nothing to do with the band whatsoever. They are there to catch your eye and tell you who’s playing where. But they are intentionally ephemeral (even though the work that goes into a lot of them belies that) and they don’t have to incapsulate and sell the band in the way that a movie poster has to do a film. The exceptions of course are posters for repertory showings, like your own superb posters for the Belcourt and, of course, the posters for the Alamo Draughthouse. These are far closer to gig posters than your average theatrical release poster and they give the designer much more freedom to be creative and allusive. I was going to mention Criterion covers in my piece because I think they have a lot to do with this debate. Criterion covers, for the most part, don’t have to sell the film to a new audience: they merely have to remind you of something you already know and love (or at least have heard of) while being elegant and gorgeous and all the other things that Criterion covers are. An extreme example: Lucien Yang’s lovely, evanescent cover for Red Desert. If you want to sell that film to the general public you put Monica Vitti on the cover (and some of Yang’s drafts did indeed do that). But kudos to Yang and Criterion for going with an out of focus shot of a factory roof. It’s more subtle than a lot of MMPs and it’s going for atmosphere rather than humor, but it is still a nod to fans rather than a hard sell.
Olly has done terrific work, but a lot of the recent minimalist posters seem to take their cue from Albert Exergian’s graphically iconic TV posters. As for the genesis of movie “fan” posters, they have been around for much longer than Moss, but didn’t seem to really begin to multiply and become more noticed until after his Black/White/Red series became a hit. Now Showing: Lost Art of the Movie Poster features a nice group that came together years ago, although these were commissioned for a gallery exhibit as opposed to being the creative whims of someone having a go for the fun of it. They’re a sharp collection, and can be found by googling or searching through flickr. I think if given the opportunity, the movie poster community as a whole could transform itself into something that carries much of the same weight and talent as that found in the gig poster community. Right now, there are a few artists that do measure up but, as a whole, an unwillingness to take risks and explore the graphic power inherent in the language that is design is causing a lot of the movement to be relatively stale, uninspiring, and self-referential. I’d say that the artists you chose to mention fall under that heading, with Olly being the exception. As they say, though, to each his own.
Tim
Great post. Yes, we all want to be Olly. Having 1,000 people smack themselves on the forehead saying ‘I could have thought of that’ is the addiction. Style is of the individual but great ideas are for the masses.

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