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  • Emma Fernández

From Icons to Art: Polish film posters continue to inspire and shape contemporary graphic design.

Movie posters are one of the most iconic and persuasive methods of advertising in the industry. They have become iconic symbols in the film industry, beloved by cinema goers across the globe. In fact, some posters have gained more recognition and fame than the movies themselves (Barbarella, USA 1968). When exploring the history of graphic design, it is impossible to overlook the significant role played by film posters, even in an era dominated by social media and digital billboards.

Example of a movie poster more iconic than the movie
Barbarella, USA 1968

What continues to amaze is the wide range of creativity, or lack of it, exhibited in film posters. Despite their common goal of attracting viewers to the film, they vary greatly in their approach and artistic contribution. Some posters feature an actual scene from the movie, offering a tantalising glimpse into the story being told. Others opt for a striking closeup of the leading actors or their multi estelar cast capturing their charisma and drawing audiences in. Regardless of the specific technique employed, the ultimate objective remains the same—to entice and engage potential viewers.

This need to captivate different audiences has led to the creation of multiple versions of film posters. It goes beyond a mere translation of the text into various languages for international markets. The posters are adapted to resonate with specific cultural contexts, taking into account the preferences and expectations of diverse viewers. This nuanced approach ensures that the promotional material connects with audiences on a deeper level, increasing the likelihood of drawing them to the cinema.

Captain America is not the leading figure in the Russian Version of the Avengers.
Avengers Endgame. To the left American Version, to the right Russian Version.

In a globalised world where social media dominates our attention and digital billboards claim public spaces, film posters still maintain their relevance. They continue to serve as powerful visual ambassadors, representing the allure and magic of the movies. With their ability to communicate the essence of a film in a single image, film posters remain an integral part of the cinema experience, inviting audiences to embark on unforgettable cinematic journeys.

One particular era has captivated the imaginations of cinephiles and achieved cult status, with collectible prices attached to its works: the Polish School of Design. This movement flourished during the post-war period under the communist regime, and it holds a significant place in the history of graphic design. In an effort to distance themselves from Western influences, the artists of this school went beyond the conventional portrayal of movie stars or scenes from the films. Instead, they delved into the realms of symbolism and metaphor, creating posters that served as profound analyses of the movie scripts and underlying themes. These posters became windows into the soul of the movies, offering viewers a glimpse into the profound narratives and ideas that lay within.

Let's take the film Cabaret (directed by Bob Fosse in 1972) as an example. The original American poster showcases the film's main protagonist, Liza Minnelli, joyfully dancing atop the typography. This depiction vividly captures the flamboyant and lively atmosphere that permeates the first part of the film.

American poster for Cabaret, 1972. Liza Minnelli dancing on top op Typography
Cabaret, USA 1972

However, it is the Polish version of the poster, designed by Wiktor Gorka, that transcends the "a star is born" message conveyed by its American counterpart. While it still incorporates the legs of a dancer, symbolising the cabaret, it takes a bolder and more evocative approach incorporating it as the most potent symbol associated with the Nazi movement—the swastika placed on the unmistakable red colour. This choice immediately draws attention and conveys a sense of the larger narrative at play.

Dancing legs forming a swastika and giving historical and political context to the narrative.
Kabaret, Poland. Wiktor Gorka

In this Polish version, the protagonist is still present, but her expression while singing takes on a different tone—one of pain and loss. This nuanced portrayal captures the deeper essence of the film and encapsulates its narrative as a whole. The use of the swastika serves as a stark reminder of the looming threat and political turmoil that underpins the storyline.

By employing powerful symbolism and evoking emotions beyond the surface-level glamour, the Polish poster for Cabaret becomes a visual analysis of the film's themes. It goes beyond the celebration of stardom and delves into the darker aspects of the story, providing viewers with a deeper understanding of the film's social and historical context.

The Polish School of Posters stands as a testament to a bygone era, where its unique approach transcended the boundaries of traditional film advertising. However, it is crucial to consider two vital aspects that set this school apart:

  1. The entertainment industry was not yet fully globalised during that time, allowing for more localised artistic expression.

  2. The poster design under the communist regime was not studio driven but artist driven.

Remarkably, even in our modern age, Polish film posters continue to inspire and shape contemporary graphic design. Their enduring appeal lies in their ability to convey profound messages and evoke emotions through captivating imagery. In today's world, dominated by copyright infringement, corporate branding, and globalisation, such a revolution is difficult to conceive. However, these posters serve as a reminder of the artistic potential inherent in film promotion, showcasing the ongoing importance of creativity, depth, and intellectual exploration within the realm of advertising and visual communication. Their influence persists, even amidst the rise of streaming services and the ever-evolving digital landscape.


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