Flipping through the website of the incomparable Czech poster store Terry Posters the other day, I came across an artist whose name I hadn’t known before. I was aware of some of Bedřich Dlouhý’s posters: his split-screen design for Věra Chytilová’s Something Different was one of my favorites in Isabel Stevens’s recent piece on Chytilová’s posters in Sight & Sound, and I knew his designs for Rashomon, Red Desert, The Pink Panther and 8 1/2, but I had never put two and two together that they were by the same designer.
Part of the reason I didn’t know more of his work is that most of the films Dlouhý worked on in the ten years that he was designing posters (from 1962 to 1971) were films from the Eastern Bloc that are little known here. Films from Hungary, Yugoslavia and the USSR with evocative titles like Speckled Angels and Happiness in a Briefcase. In Czechoslovakia, however, Dlouhý is held in very high regard. A recent exhibition of his paintings in Prague was titled “Return of the King.” Born in 1932 and still working as a fine artist at the age of 82, Dlouhý is especially well known for one poster, that for Alberto Lattuada’s The Steppe, which features a fly climbing up what looks like a twig. According to Terry Posters, The Steppe is second only to Olga Polackova-Vyletalova’s poster for Une Femme Douce as one of the most iconic designs of the Czech poster school.
Jiří Kofroň of Terry Posters explained to me that “the poster for The Steppe pretty much sums up what the Czech art movie poster is about. It captures the atmosphere of the movie with very few visual elements. There is almost no text, no faces of actors or hints what the movie will be about. But yet it has the strange imagination of a single fly sitting on only one blade of grass with a strange background color.” He said that the Steppe poster is featured in most articles and books about Czech movie posters. “It has just that kind of magic that almost no poster has nowadays.”
Dlouhý studied art at the Specialised Ceramics school in Prague and then at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. It was while he was at the Academy, in 1954, that he became one of the founding members of the Šmidrové Group, which borrowed from Dadaism and “studied the aesthetics of strangeness.” In his art as well as in his film posters, Dlouhý likes to work with assemblages. Though a hugely accomplished classical painter, Dlouhý uses assemblage to “capture the character of the contemporary world.” His gallery refers to a “scrimmage of objects” in his work.
His movie posters collage disparate elements to strange and alluring affect. Photography, diagrammatic illustration and typography mix in fascinating combinations to produce some of the oddest designs even in the arcane world of Eastern European posters. His Pink Panther features Claudia Cardinale as a sphinx-like creature with the actress’s torso on a hand-drawn panther body, but as so often in his work, the screen is divided into two halves with the bottom half here being a swathe of colorful floral wallpaper.
His surreal and menacing poster for Rashomon (top of page) features a disembodied grimace and a drop of blood above a tiny image of the ruined city gate that gives the film its title. And I can’t even begin to tell you what is going on in his Hiroshima, mon Amour.
Though I love Dlouhý's use of bright color in posters like The Pink Panther, Speckled Angels and Five Men and One Heart, I like his black and white (and red) posters best of all. His designs for The Accident, Face to Face, Ladies Will Come Later and The Traitor are wonderfully bold and spare, making striking use of empty space and near-abstract elements that often look like technical diagrams.
Featured here are nearly all of Dlouhý’s graphic works for film.
Many thanks to Jiří Kofroň and the good folks at Terry Posters. In 2010 the store mounted an exhibition of Dlouhý’s work which he attended. Photographs of the exhibition’s opening can be seen here.