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Movie Poster Trend of the Week: “Morning Glory”

Before you throw up your hands in dismay, please note that today’s column is called Movie Poster Trend of the Week. I am not a huge fan of the three teaser posters for Morning Glory, though in theory I applaud their daring. The problem for me is that they just don’t do anything for the film (a Broadcast News for the ’10s, opening next Friday) and are merely aping a trend without really carrying it off with much aplomb. They are hard to read and the overlaid type doesn’t really serve any purpose.

The use of type obscuring an actor’s face, and the dominance of type over image has been much in evidence in movie posters lately. It was used superbly in two of my favorite posters of the year to date, for I'm Still Here, and I Am Love, and also in the posters for The Social Network and, to a lesser degree, for Salt (all of which can be seen below). Neil Kellerhouse, who beautifully obscured Sasha Grey’s face in my favorite poster of last year, seems to be pushing this particular corner of the envelope the hardest, having designed both I'm Still Here and The Social Network.

I think I first saw this done ten years ago, in a milder form, in the poster for Before Night Falls. But the most influential poster in this style has to be the 2007 poster for Michael Clayton, though the significant thing about the Clayton poster, as with The Social Network and Morning Glory, is that it’s the tagline which is dominant, not the title. (The new poster for Tiny Furniture follows this particular trend of overbearing taglines.)

I have tried to find a precedent for this style in older movie posters, but though I’ve found many examples of type placed judiciously on faces, as in these posters for Come and See and Stolen Kisses, I've found none that take it to this level of disregard. (Hans Hillman’s Le feu follet, using leaves instead of type, might be the closest in spirit). One of the criticisms I heard of the Social Network poster is that it looked like a book cover, and, for sure, more examples of this style can be found in book design, as in Jamie Keenan’s excellent cover for Never Let Me Go. But if anyone can find me other examples in earlier movie posters I’d love to see them.

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The great cover art by Criterion over the last 10 years have also been pushing this trend.
The teaser posters for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind I think would fall into this trend too—and they, like Michael Clayton, play on the recognizability of their actors while obscuring their faces somewhat:
Join me to the ranks of those who thoroughly appreciate these insightful galleries. Thank you for monitoring these trends.
This is not a “trend.” It’s graphic artists ripping off Barbara Kruger’s politically charged aesthetic for commercial purposes. The practice is as widespread as it is shameless, it’s been going on for more than 10 years (probably 20), and the fact that she’s not even mentioned in this piece suggest that the circle is now complete, and Kruger’s style has been so thoroughly absorbed that people think of it as just another way to design movie posters. Seriously, Google her name and look at the art that comes up. The first time I remember Kruger’s work getting hijacked for commercial purposes was the cover to Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho.
Something similar was also used on posters for Michael Clayton and The Informant!
Matt, while you’re right that I should have invoked Barbara Kruger, whose work I like a lot, as an interesting antecedent to this style, I think you’re wrong that that’s who these designers are copying/parodying/ripping off here. Typographically Kruger had a very distinct style: the use of Futura Bold Oblique type in white on red bands (or occasionally the other way around). If you want to parody or reference Kruger that’s what you use. The other major aspect of her work is the use of slogans. In that way the Social Network and especially the Michael Clayton posters can be said to be Krugeresque in spirit though not in style. The American Psycho cover does not look very Krugeresque to me. I’m sure there were far more blatant examples at the time (I vaguely remember seeing them). But it is a perfect example of what I’m talking about here so thanks for the example. If we’re talking simply about lettering covering faces, this is a more significant example that I definitely should have referenced. Was Barbara Kruger ripping off Jamie Reid? And whether these designers are ripping off Kruger or not, the fact that there have been a number of these designs on movie posters in the past few years surely justifies it as a trend. Unless you can find me plenty of other examples from the past 25 years. There is an interesting article on Design Observer about the whole issue of plagiarizing Barbara Kruger and whether or not an artist “owns” a style. Unfortunately it’s from 2005 and a lot of the illustrative links are no longer live. But the last paragraph is especially good: “I remember seeing an Esquire cover about ten years ago: the subject was radio personality Howard Stern. What a ripoff, I thought, seeing the all-too-familiar Futura Italic. To my surprise, it turned out to be a Barbara Kruger cover illustrating a Barbara Kruger article. Who would have thought: she’s a Howard Stern fan. And the lesson? If anyone can rip you off, you may as well beat them to the punch.”
Hello Adrian, It is quite funny that we got the same idea at the same time! Actually I did a similar post a few weeks before you (on October 11 ;-), with almost the same posters (I totally forgot “Michael Clayton”, but I thought about “The Informant”). Great minds think alike! I also did a few posts about movie posters on my blog for a few years : I’ll surely be a new reader of your “movie poster of the week” posts!
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Wow, hadn’t realized this trend extended so far in just one year. When I saw the SOCIAL NETWORK poster, I was struck by its similarity to the Criterion artwork for THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH:
Now THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is getting in on the act.
Christophe, I just saw your comment and checked out your blog. Amazing curatorial work! I’ve been meaning to do something similar for ages but I don’t think I would have been quite as thorough. Ned, thanks for reminding me about Man Who Fell to Earth – a perfect example.
An interesting addendum to the type on face debate that I only just came across:
And another addition to the type-on-face gallery:

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