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ScreenFonts: July 2018

Now that I’m on my way to becoming a YouTube celebrity (not), I wonder if more people will tune in to read my movie-poster reviews for Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Cleanse, Jia nian hua (Angels Wear White), Geu-hu (The Day After), Measure of A Man, Goodland, First Reformed, In Darkness, and What Haunts Us. Only stats will tell.

I’m pretty excited about the release of the Vox video that Christophe Haubursin taped the morning of my talk at SXSW last March. Haubursin did a great job paring down an hour-long conversation and combining it with fragments of my presentation to create a snappy four-minute video. To any new readers who found this episode of my quasi-monthly ScreenFonts series via the Vox video: welcome! I hope you enjoy my typography-driven reviews. You can find links to previous episodes in the sidebar.

Anyone who has seen one of my movie-poster talks knows that I like to point out posters that seem to copy one another. This time, instead of the usual “this movie’s key art looks very much like that other movie’s key art,” the resemblance crosses media. Four character sheets for Solo: A Star Wars Story seem to copy a music compilation series.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

BLT Communications’ theatrical one-sheet for Solo: A Star Wars Story
© 2018 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications, LLC.

On the heels of Rogue One, the intergalactic swashbuckling slash samurai slash Western saga serves up another prequel. Solo: A Star Wars Story, the origin story of the charming rogue and his hirsute copilot, contains many Easter eggs for longtime fans. And it’s not only the film that references the original trilogy. Just like the collateral for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, BLT Communications, LLC’s main theatrical one-sheet deploys the supporting typeface ITC Serif Gothic as a visual link to the posters for the first movie. But there’s more: it also taps into fan-base nostalgia by using the iconic geometry of the Millennium Falcon’s front windows as a graphic framing device.

The robust superelliptic structure of the Os in the movie logo immediately made me think of Antenna Black Italic’s confident stance.

BLT Communications’ character sheet for Solo: A Star Wars Story
© 2018 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications, LLC.
Hachim-Bahous’ album sleeve artwork for Sony Music’s The Legacy of Funk
© 2015 Legacy/Sony Music. Album artwork by Hachim Bahous.
BLT Communications’ character sheet for Solo: A Star Wars Story
© 2018 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications, LLC.
Hachim-Bahous’ album sleeve artwork for Sony Music’s The Legacy of Jazz
© 2015 Legacy/Sony Music. Album artwork by Hachim Bahous.
BLT Communications’ character sheet for Solo: A Star Wars Story
© 2018 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications, LLC.
Hachim-Bahous’ album sleeve artwork for Sony Music’s The Legacy of Soul
© 2015 Legacy/Sony Music. Album artwork by Hachim Bahous.
BLT Communications’ character sheet for Solo: A Star Wars Story
© 2018 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Key art by BLT Communications, LLC.
Hachim-Bahous’ album sleeve artwork for Sony Music’s The Legacy of Electronic Funk
© 2015 Legacy/Sony Music. Album artwork by Hachim Bahous.

Four character sheets from the promotional campaign rocked the internet when French graphic designer Hachim Bahous pointed out (in a since-deleted Facebook post) the obvious similarities with album art he created for a 2015 Sony Music Legacy series. Disney replied: “The posters were created by an outside vendor and it’s something we are currently looking into.” To the best of my knowledge, this has been Disney’s only public statement; I wonder if we’ll ever learn how the situation panned out.

On a purely formal level, both series skillfully frame character shots within the letterforms of a compact sans serif. Bahous chose a display sans with closed apertures, set as tightly tracked capitals, to create as much surface as possible to house the images. This typographic style was popular in the late seventies and early eighties when the songs included in the compilations were released. The rounder Titling Gothic Skyline and more angular Armada Black Compressed, which offer a maximum amount of “blackness,” would make perfect alternatives here. The character posters for Solo use a straight-sided design with open apertures, similar to Tasse.

The Cleanse

Theatrical one-sheet by Phantom City Creative
© 2016 Vertical Entertainment. Key art by Phantom City Creative.

In The Cleanse, a heartbroken man attends a spiritual retreat in an attempt to fix his shattered life. The demonic shadow looming over Johnny Galecki in Phantom City Creative’s theatrical one-sheet suggests there is more to this “cleanse” than meets the eye. While Albertus lends the artwork a subtle retro air, the gorgeous soft-focus art on a delicate cream background leaves no doubt this is a contemporary design.

Together with Perpetua Titling, Albertus was one of the main precursors to Trajan on movie posters. Richard Lipton made his own version of the capitals found on the Trajan column’s base with a full lowercase complement named Canto, available in four finishes: Regular, Pen, Brush, and Brush Open.

Kustom Creative’s theatrical one-sheet for The Cleanse
© 2016 Vertical Entertainment. Key art by Kustom Creative.

Compared to Phantom City Creative’s stylish artwork, Kustom Creative’s more commercial take looks very eighties, and less appealing. The absence of the word “Master” in the final title makes me suspect this key art was produced later, possibly with interference from the studio. In the former poster, the demonic presence is undefined, leaving it up to the viewer to imagine what exactly it could be, thus making it more threatening. By explicitly showing it in the latter, the dread dissipates, and the creature becomes a comical little dude.

The neobaroque serif face is the largest optical size in the ITC Bodoni series. Matthew Carter drew his own expert rendition of Giambattista Bodoni’s types with Stilson Headline; CSTM Fonts offers the adventurous Kazimir as a contemporary interpretation of that epoch’s faces. Both series come in various optical sizes, too.

Jia nian hua (Angels Wear White)

Theatrical one-sheet for Jia nian hua (Angels Wear White)
© 2017 KimStim Films.

I seem to come across an increasing number of excellent Asian film posters these days. Jia nian hua (Angels Wear White) tells the story of two schoolgirls who are sexually assaulted by a middle-aged man in a motel in a small seaside town, with the teenage girl working at the reception desk that night the only witness. The lyrical key art for the Chinese drama takes a little more effort to analyze, but it’s definitely worth it. The woman pictured from the waist down in monochromatic red, standing wide-legged on a pedestal with dress fluttering in the wind, appears to symbolize an adult sexuality the schoolgirls haven’t yet attained, but have had forced on them. One of the girls is depicted really small—signifying her vulnerability—staring at big waves breaking on the shore, possibly a metaphor for the sexual assault and her lost innocence.

Theatrical one-sheet for Jia nian hua (Angels Wear White)
© 2017 KimStim Films.

The other poster focuses on Mia, the teenage witness who stays quiet for fear of losing her job, and twelve-year-old Wen, one of the victims. The emotion in their eyes hints at what transpired. Borrowing the color scheme from the previous poster, their portraits are trapped inside the rough outlines of two handprints, a symbol of the perpetrator’s aggression and a metaphor for how the assault impacted their lives.

Geu-hu (The Day After)

Domestic one-sheet for The Day After
© 2018 Cinema Guild.

Like the last episode, this one gives us an opportunity to study how the key art of an Asian film changes for different markets. Geu-hu (The Day After) examines the fallout of damaged relationships: Haejoo discovers her husband Bongwan’s affair with his former assistant, Changsook (who recently left him), and mistakes his new assistant, Areum, for said mistress. The South-Korean romantic drama’s domestic one-sheet foregoes symbolism in favor of aesthetic minimalism: a black-and-white shot of a dreamy-eyed Areum sitting in the back of a car. The black area covering two-thirds of the canvas prominently features the title’s beautiful knocked-out characters. The artwork reveals little, but it possesses atmosphere in spades—you feel what kind of film it will be.

International one-sheet for The Day After
© 2018 Cinema Guild. Key art by Brian Hung.

Newcomer Brian Hung debuted with three posters for Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (On the Beach at Night Alone), discussed here last December. He approached the official theatrical poster for the American market very much like a book cover. The circles containing the portraits of the main protagonists create a clever pattern. Bongwan’s expression changes; the portraits of the women are duplicated but switch positions to confront him with, from top to bottom, his wife Haejoo, his new assistant Areum, and Changsook, his former mistress.

Consistent with this cerebral art, Hung’s use of a narrow American gothic is common on book covers. While Morris Fuller Benton’s historical designs like News Gothic or Trade Gothic have gaps in their range, Benton Sans covers the entire gamut—from Thin to Black in eight weights and from Extra Compressed to Wide in five widths, all with matching italics, for a total of eighty styles.

French one-sheet for The Day After
© 2018 Cinema Guild.

The French one-sheet shows Bongwan sitting at the table pondering the loss of his mistress, the damage he’s caused to his marriage, how his new assistant got dragged into all of this, and the general mess he’s made of his life. This may sound like a silly cliché, but the image shot in cinéma vérité style bathes in an existential, philosophical mood that seems quintessentially French. The movie title is hastily scrawled; Underware’s Duos, a script in the same vein with mind-blowing artificial intelligence, would do well here.

Measure of a Man

Theatrical one-sheet for Measure of a Man
© 2018 Great Point Media.

In Measure of a Man, a bullied teenager experiences a turning-point summer during which he learns to stand up for himself. The image of him on a diving board, hesitating, right before he literally jumps in at the deep end, deftly visualizes what the film is about. Text and image interact in a compelling way. Set to the same width, the different height of the two main words lends an additional layer of meaning to Measure. And its position behind the teen, while the bigger Man is in front of him, alludes to his growth as a person.

An art-deco flavor similar to Rudolf Koch’s Kabel can be found in Dunbar, inspired by the types of Koch’s contemporary and compatriot Jakob Erbar; Eagle is an American alternative from the same time period. Mostra Nuova is inspired by lettering on early twentieth-century Italian posters. Arboria and Arbotek are Spanish, while the genre-bending Pilar has Russian roots.

Goodland

Theatrical one-sheet for Goodland
© 2017 Parade Deck Films. Key art by Ben Burghart.

Goodland tells the story of a photographer arriving in a small farming community the same day the body of a drifter is discovered, leaving the local sheriff to piece together a string of events that don’t quite add up. In an email interview, Ben Burghart explained that he was inspired by the geography of western Kansas, which has a very unique aesthetic in terms of depth and distance. To capture this “bottomless” feeling, he extended the sky to create an imbalance and sense of unease, adding a sinister twist to the image without the need for guns or gore. Burghart said: “Inverting the image of the reflection in the water makes you question the seemingly innocent act of the character Ergo taking a picture on his car. Many people don’t realize the poster is upside down until they take a second look, which plays into the nature of the noir crime thriller.”

Burghart gravitated toward a serif face because, he said, design in rural Kansas communities tends to be rooted in tradition. Additionally, he wanted to visualize the film’s slow-burn seventies pacing by stripping down the type as much as possible and giving it plenty of room to breathe in the composition. The curved shapes of the G and D symmetrically bookending the title were a nice bonus. Lavigne and Elmhurst have the same inward half-serif on the G, while Kopius and Marcia are steeped in a similar vernacular mood.

First Reformed

Theatrical one-sheet for First Reformed
© 2017 A24. Key art by P+A.

The three final posters share a common theme: a disfigured portrait. P+A created an absolutely gorgeous theatrical one-sheet for the thriller First Reformed. It’s simple and effective, and refined and haunting in equal measure. The burning horizon draws a brutal scar across the canvas, slashing the face of Ethan Hawke, who plays a priest of a small congregation in upstate New York. It gives form to a mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns, and a tormented past. Step back and take a moment to notice its flawless position between the quote at the top and the movie title at the bottom.

Jonathan Barnbrook’s Priori heavily references lettering observed in the streets, churches, and buildings of London, lending it a sacral air that matches the film’s religious themes. Except for the similar flick of the leg in Village’s capital R, nothing else really comes close.

In Darkness

Theatrical one-sheet for In Darkness
© 2018 Vertical Entertainment.

In the main theatrical poster for In Darkness, the scratches over Natalie Dormer’s eyes become increasingly aggressive, bordering on vicious. They serve a narrative purpose: she plays a blind musician who hears a murder committed in the apartment upstairs from hers, which sends her down a dark path into London’s gritty criminal underworld. Her damaged eye becomes the focal point of the poster, anchoring the movie tagline and connecting it to the title at the bottom. It cleverly doubles as the second eye of the red, ghostly face of the character behind her.

The narrow American gothic—see my reference to Benton Sans in my review of Geu-hu (The Day After) above—becomes blurry at the edges, an additional reference to the main character’s visual impairment.

What Haunts Us

Theatrical one-sheet for What Haunts Us
© 2018 Tolmach Productions.

The cuts and scribbles in the one-sheet for What Haunts Us are downright frenetic, as if the designer gave in to anger, hurt, or despair. It drives home the premise of the documentary: the search for the truth behind the suicide of six boys out of the forty-nine who graduated in the 1979 class of Porter Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina. The key art’s DIY-like graphic treatment tells a powerful story. The photo is heavily rasterized, like a yearbook photo from the seventies, with photocopy artifacts around it. The damaged red title anonymizes the boy; the frenzied scribbles over his mouth suggest a long-kept secret, an inability to articulate what happened, an involuntary reticence. The poster becomes a raw expression of emotion—a damaged life turned into an arresting image.

The designer combined different widths and weights of a neo-grotesque—probably Helvetica (cf. Neue Haas Grotesk)—to create a textured typography in tune with the graphic style. Many families on Type Network have an extensive range with lots of widths and weights, some of which have been mentioned in this episode. Maybe it’s time to devote an entire article to these sprawling type systems.

Scribble all you want; I will continue blathering on and on about movie posters, one of my very favorite mediums to think about. Soon I will serve up The Leftovers, and after that, I’ll come back for the summer edition of this series.

Bald Condensed, né Yves Peters, is a Belgian-based rock drummer known for his astute observations on the impact of letterforms in the contemporary culture-sphere. A prolific writer on typography, he has a singular knack for identifying the most obscure typefaces known to humankind.