While checking out a flick at MoMA recently, I came across the most extraordinary exhibit of movie posters painted for the grand Eastman Theater by Batiste Madalena during the late period of silent cinema, from 1924-1928. Imagine traveling back to a time before Photoshop and digital cameras, when movie posters were actually hand-made. The eye-popping colors and attention to detail within this exhibit are truly amazing to behold, but one thing it makes you realize is that great design is timeless.
Here’s Karen. She’s the Batiste Madelena of the Upper West Side. She designs all the lovely movie posters you see outside at Lincoln Center, like the one above for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
As soon as we got to the exhibit, Karen began to school me on the challenges of designing movie posters. Her job is to create a compelling visual representation of a film, and just like Madelena, she often works from limited press materials. Remember our Oscar Micheaux series? That time, there were barely any surviving images from the work of the black cinema pioneer, so Karen was forced to come up with some creative solutions.
Looking at the following vintage movie poster, Karen wondered if Madalena was confronted with a similar dearth of usable visuals and had to improvise.Another cool thing that Karen noticed was this layout of Greta Garbo. Look closely at the way Garbo’s scarf interacts with the title line. Very photoshoppy isn’t it?
“One thing that’s key to designing a great movie poster is finding an arresting pair of eyes,” Karen told me, and a perfect illustration is this poster from The Sea Hawk.
And check out William Holden’s peepers. Squinty, but powerful:
Batiste Madalena: Handpainted Movie Posters for the Eastman Theater is a must-see exhibit for movie and design-lovers both. But hurry, it closes soon–April 6.
Naturally, it’s yet another reason we think you should go to New Directors/New Films this year. Take in great films, new directors…and the timeless art of movie poster design at MoMA all at once. We’ll see you at the theater!
Moving Pictures is the filmlinc blog’s extremely erratic series that looks at film as art in unusual manifestations outside of the walls of our institution. Check out past features on Bill Brand’s subway installation Masstransisscope, Brooklyn Academy of Music’s production of Continuous Cities, and artist Scott Draves’s online project, Electric Sheep in the archives.