In this episode, we talked about movie posters and their value in understanding films as well as their tie to the history of cinema. Also, we discussed how to identify good film posters and how specific film genres often employ a certain vibe and look for their film posters. Lastly, we picked certain posters from Filipino films and explained how they are effective representations of their films.
Before the age of click-bait thumbnails in video-sharing platforms, we have movie posters that intend to grab the attention of the audience and ultimately persuade them to spend their money to watch films.
Old folks, those who obsess on the “once glorious past” of cinema, would often relish at how the movie posters in the past are way better than what we have today. They would even push the argument claiming that posters are separate art forms, having a life outside the films they represent.
While such a view on posters is true, it is more of an exception than a rule. Posters, since the conception of films, are marketing tools, aimed towards selling the film through appealing to the mass market. There is no point in denying such.
That is not to say, though, that posters are immaterial media texts. Much like any part of the film production process, poster making takes a conscious effort both from the layout artist and the director. They have to identify which one single image represents the film best. This means then that a poster offers us a glimpse of how the filmmaker wants her or his film to be judged.
Film posters in the country have always been a point of interest for scholars. In a country where archiving is simply non-existent, a contemporary historian would resort to film posters to study nonextant films. Posters serve as living relics proving that those films actually existed. Or in another case, posters become evidence that Filipino films were shown in other countries. For example, these Filipino film posters made for the Italian audience serve as records that the international audience watched movies made in the country.
The visual nature of posters also allows people to hold onto a bygone era. The hand-painted gigantic film posters in old movie houses in Manila often give nostalgia to old cinema-goers.
Contrary to popular belief, cinema’s shift to digital didn’t mean the death of the art of film poster making. Free and cheap design software meant that even independent and student filmmakers could create well-designed posters.
And the art of film poster making continues in the hands of young artists whose view of cinema, filmmaking, and design might already be different from the generation that came before them.
Take this poster, for example. Jack em Popoy: The Puliscredibles revolves around the story of three police officers in a mission to stop criminals in their city. Arguably, this film isn’t the best, but its good poster is worthy of attention and examination.
One look at the poster immediately tells the viewers how the story is about action and comedy. A high-speed car, gun-wielding characters, and a police badge tell the viewers that the film is about crime-fighting police. But, the awkward position of smiling main characters at the center of the poster also says that the audience must expect a good laugh from the film.
The poster is also a reference to the posters of popular Hollywood action films from Marvel and Star Wars, whose characters form an awkward tableau of some sort.
This poster was designed by Justin Besana, whose other designs are equally commendable. This, for example, captures the mob culture discussed thoroughly in John Denver Trending.
Another good film poster we’ve seen recently is that of Glenn Barit’s 2018 short film Nangungupahan. There is so much to talk about Glenn’s films and vision, but that’s for another video essay. Nangungupahan blurs the spatial and temporal boundaries of a shared apartment unit. It is a commentary on how rental housing units become witnesses to the lives that unravel before them.
As for the film poster, it complements the experimental nature of the film. It may seem abstract to someone who hasn’t seen the movie, but for those who have, it is a conversation piece that somehow extends the shortness of the source material. It isn’t the “typical” design as it presents the names of the production crew members through a receipt and the cast through a list – items that are often found in residential homes. The whole poster is reminiscent of a miscellaneous drawer that collects dirt and other non-essentials at someone’s home. Just like the collection of uneventful mini-stories in the film, the poster also collects trivial objects that may have once served as witnesses to people’s life events.
When it comes to documentary films, filmmakers often choose a single frame from their movie that somehow summarizes the entire story. This goes with the truth-telling nature of documentary films. They are a glimpse of the actual lives of people. It is understandable then that documentarists would choose minimally edited and enhanced images as their poster.
Looking at posters as cultural artifacts go to show that cinema lives outside its own medium. Cinema is in the posters we see, in the reviews and critiques we read, and even in the memes we share. To read a film only through the sound and visual you see on the screen is an underappreciation of an art form that is boundless and eternal.