Academy exhibitions

Can you name the films above?

This weekend, I had the rare opportunity to view these posters (and many like them) as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences new exhibition of Czech film posters. Unlike Western movie posters, which typically feature simple facial collages meant to serve and promote the star system, Eastern European posters once provided a major social and cultural function as public art. During the Cold War, the communist governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia allowed diversions from their “socialist realist” norm and allowed artists to create movie posters that could compete internationally in graphic design exhibitions. The posters drew styles from trends in world art, ranging from surrealist to pop art, grotesque to lyrical, all of it in the service of a film’s thematic concerns. (Today, American distributors ensure that a movie’s ad campaign is internationally homogenous, only allowing typesetting changes according to language differences.)

Part of the fun in viewing these posters, especially for a non-Czech reader like myself, is determining which film each poster represents–without the typical advertising or star promotion, the posters require a more focused interaction and appreciation. The above three posters, for example, from left to right are for Robert Bresson’s Une femme douce (A Gentle Woman) (Olga Pol·ckov·-Vyletalov·, 1970), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (Josef Vyletal, 1970), and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice (Eva Svankmajer, 1984). In full size, the detail and brushwork of these lovingly-painted designs are positively astonishing.

There are actually quite a few websites dealing with Eastern European film posters and the artists who created them, as well as e-shops that sell reprints. Among the most informative or comprehensive of these sites include’s historical overview of American Films in Polish Posters, Rene Wanner’s international Poster Page, and the browsable Polish Posters Shop.

The series will continue through April 18, 2004.

(Anonymous, Czech, 1923)

Along with the Academy’s Czech poster exhibition, it has also initiated an exhibition on the life and work of F.W. Murnau, the famed German filmmaker who created landmarks of expressionist cinema (Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, Faust) as well as American silent pictures (Sunrise, Tabu) among many others, before his tragic automobile accident and early death at the age of 43. (Fritz Lang delivered his eulogy.)

The exhibition has been organized by the Berlin Filmmuseum–it was initially presented at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival and includes several video monitors playing clips from Murnau’s films, original letters of correspondence and fragments of hand-marked screenplays, original set designs, photographs from Murnau’s private collection, and even models (the most elaborate of which is a street diorama of Murnau’s set for City Girl, roughly six or seven feet in length).

I was amazed to discover the city seen outside of a hotel’s revolving door in the beginning of The Last Laugh, for example, was actually constructed in forced perspective. As cars recede into the background, smaller and smaller model cars were used, and pedestrians standing in the distant background are actually cardboard cutouts standing before huge building facades in equally diminishing proportions.

Of Murnau’s 21 films, twelve are thought to no longer exist. Most of the others will be screened at LACMA in March/April, 2004.

Murnau’s facility with chiaroscuro lighting, a moving camera, and his attention to social themes are legendary and several of his works have been released on DVD in North America by Kino International, individually and as a box set. (Several of his films have also been released in European region 2 as well, in particular a recent Spanish restoration of Faust.)

Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum published an article in the Guardian last Saturday on Sunrise, and the Eureka region 2 DVD is now on sale in the UK. (The region 1 Fox DVD scandalously can only be obtained via a buy-three special offer–or their box set.)

The Academy’s Murnau exhibition will continue through April 18, 2004.