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Posterized!: The Criterion Collection

by on September 9, 2011
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This week’s film posters are hopelessly, depressingly bland. Don’t believe me? Take a look…


Clever tagline, but an awkward array of panicked heads. This poster also summarizes the film too neatly, sucking all the mystery out of it.


From the clichéd tagline to the terribly posed photograph, this poster is BO-RING!  The marketing executives could have pushed further to make it look like an authentic Ultimate Fighting ad, perhaps inserting fight dates and ticket information. That would have made the film seem more interesting than your standard inspirational sports flick.

“Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star”

All right, you get the point. This week’s posters are bad, making one wonder if promotional film artwork is ever consistently appealing and if there is such a thing as a perfect marketing machine. Yes, there is. It’s called The Criterion Collection.

A video-distribution company selling “important classic and contemporary films,” Criterion’s stamp bears much weight. Lovingly packaged, its DVDs are works of art in and of themselves. Fans eagerly await each new piece of DVD cover art. These covers are so consistently arresting that they have inspired numerous artists to create their own. Check out The Auteurs’ Fake Criterion Covers — you’ll lose yourself for days in that hypnotic website. Here’s a taste…



The thrill of a Criterion cover is how it presents a film in a whole new light and enriches your experience watching it. Take the cover for Mike Leigh’s “Topsy-Turvy.”

A striking example of Joge-e — a style from mid-to late-19th-century Japan depicting figures that can be viewed either right side up or upside down, resulting in two different images blended together. Not only is this image fun and interactive, it fits the film perfectly, as the movie explores a Japanese-themed opera from that era, “The Mikado March.” This image also reflects the wacky personality of the opera’s librettist, W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and his habit of turning worlds upside down in his productions.

Isn’t that interesting? Doesn’t it pique your curiosity about the film and evoke more respect for DVD cover artists?

As I’ve written before, great promotional artwork is not only a representation, but an interpretation of a film. The Criterion covers are rich and dense — more like photo essays than mere DVD dust jackets. You can sense the cover artist making a statement about the film — a feeling rarely experienced upon looking around the walls of the local cineplex lobby. In addition to complementing and reinterpreting the films, Criterion covers perfectly mirror the filmmakers’ styles and intentions. Take the Wes Anderson film covers, for instance.

Matching the retro storybook aesthetic of Anderson’s films, these cover illustrations are imbued with his characters’ childlike innocence and wonder. To a certain extent, his films are like a child’s doodlings brought to life, full of whimsy and charmingly clumsy imagination, presenting our largely bland and bleak world with a playful attitude (as artists Eric Chase Anderson — Wes’s brother — and Ian Dingman do here).

Ideally, all movie posters should share this magic. Fans should eagerly await them as children do a toy — something so visually dazzling it simply must be had. But in this Internet age, when trailers and photo stills arrive before posters, promotional artwork seems to be dying. Marketing execs play it safe, releasing boring posters under the assumption that audiences care more about a film’s cast and trailer. But now that posters are no longer the end-all-be-all of film promotion, they should be taking exciting, creative risks. These days, posters are ripe for experimentation. Look at what Criterion is doing — it seems to be working. More importantly, it seems to be what film lovers want.