It struck me the other day that two new posters that have recently caught my eye have something unusual in common: they both play on the idea of neon signage in very different ways. Since one of the best new posters of the year is the devilish blast of neon luminescence that is the Only God Forgives poster (which can be seen again further down) I thought that maybe we had the makings of a trend.
The poster for the music documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me reuses the neon band sign that graced the cover of Big Star’s debut 1972 album #1 Record, only now the sign looks unused, if not abandoned. The photo has the feeling of a William Eggleston photo, which is not surprising since Eggleston was a good friend of Big Star’s Alex Chilton and a photo of his was used as the cover for their second album in 1974, Radio City. The red in the poster even echoes the red ceiling of that cover and the beautiful title treatment on the poster actually comes from that album.
Since Jill Soloway’s Sundance winner Afternoon Delight is about a stripper who transforms the lives of an unhappily married couple, the designers of the poster created a a strip-club signage style rendering of their marital alienation. Although I didn’t really get that at first—I thought it was simply a cool-looking poster for a movie about hipsters—once I saw the trailer it made perfect sense.
The Only God Forgives poster of course is the ne(on) plus ultra of luminescent sign posters...
...or at least I thought so until I remembered this:
But I wonder if the inspiration behind the Only God Forgives poster actually came from artist Rizon Parein’s actual neon 3-dimensional “poster” for Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous film...
There is a precedent for actual neon lighting, as in real glass tubing, being used on a movie poster, which is this preview poster for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 Vegas-set folly One From the Heart.
In my research of neon for this piece I actually came across the shop that created this: Aargon Neon in Crockett, California. Their website, which documents much of their neon work for Hollywood, shows the miniature neon created for this poster. It also contains a very comprehensive history of neon lighting—which goes back to 1858—described in an unattributed quote as “the scarlet whore of the advertising world.”
Meanwhile, I wonder if the current trend, if that’s what it is, for neon in movie posters has anything to do with a certain Mr. Whaite who for the past few years has been making very witty neon-style gif riffs on movie poster fan art like this...
The Afternoon Delight poster seems especially indebted to his work, which you can see much more of here.