The Floating Head Syndrome

Recently I’ve been designing a movie poster for my Graphic Design class and part of the learning experience is finding out what not to do. Our professor showed us this very informative short about how movie posters are made in the big leagues: aka, Hollywood. I offer it for your viewing pleasure.

Movie Poster Floating Heads from Funny or Die —> Click to watch

[I’m very sorry about the link. I tried to embed it, but WordPress doesn’t like the embed link for some reason.]

Okay, so honestly, I’ve never realized this before! I guess I don’t pay enough attention to modern Hollywood. *cough, cough*

The other component of our lectures in preparation for the movie poster assignment was several Powerpoints of Polish film posters. The Poles are world renown for their eclectic designs of film posters. They famously misrepresent (or at least it seems that way to us) the films they are depicting. According to my prof, the reason for this misrepresentation is that the posters were made by artists who had not yet seen the film. They were creating the posters to be used as promotional material for underground theaters in Communist Poland (Poland was communist from 1945-1989). So, when they were designing, they had a limited little verbal sketch of what this film was about. Most likely provided by a shady character who was smuggling in bootleg copies of the films. (Sounds rather like film itself, doesn’t it?)

My friend Lolita is coincidentally doing a superb series showcasing these Polish posters, so I refer you to her amazing posts – Freaky Film Posters or: Do They Feel All Right In Poland? (part 1) (part 2)

Casablanca PolishBrief Encounter Polish

These two are my favorites of the ones Lolita shared. Obviously the first is Casablanca (1942).  Lolita is right that it would be a stronger piece without the speech bubble. If you cover up the bubble with your hand, you can see how the poster is way more powerful. I think the person who designed this poster really had seen Casablanca before designing it. You can’t get that close to the storyline without at least one viewing.

The second poster is a bit of a puzzle at first glance. Look carefully. The strange abstract tower-like object is actually a train signal. Then we have darkness, a bright spot in the corner and a silhouetted couple in the foreground. Any guesses so far? Yup, it’s none other than Brief Encounter (1945)!

Here they are side by side with the Hollywood originals. How do think the Poles stack up?

Brief Encounter PolishBrief Encounter

Brief Encounter, Polish and American. Notice the floating head syndrome on the left in the American poster. I do love the illustration style of the American one, though!

Casablanca PolishCasablanca

Casablanca, Polish and American. Boy us Americans are really plagued with this floating head thing!

**You know, all the time I’ve been writing this post the text at the top of that Polish Casablanca poster has been reminding me of something. I just figured out what it is. Check out this cover from a Manhattan Transfer CD:

manhattan transferVery similar, no? I wonder who this artist was inspired by?

Well, that’s all for now folks. But stay tuned for a peek at the poster I designed from all this inspiration!


Filed under Film Bloggers, My Art, School

4 responses to “The Floating Head Syndrome

  1. Haha that floating head video is hilarious!! I had to design movie posters for my photoshop class last semester and guess what I was guilty of?? Floating head! ahh! :D

    I love that style on the Manhattan Transfer record. There’s a certain artist who did a lot of work in that style in the 20’s and 30’s but I can’t remember his name now!

  2. Kate – Haha! Thanks! Oh no!! You?! Guilty of the floating heads?! Say it isn’t so!! ;) It’s an easy trap to fall into, but once you see it, you’ll never be tricked again! I really like the Manhattan Transfer record style, too. Are you thinking of Cassandre? He designed that famous Normandie poster and has that lovely airbrushed quality to most of his work.

  3. Very interesting posts. It’s cool to see how different the Polish and American artwork for the film posters are. I didn’t quite notice the prevalence of floating heads but now I see it! It’s the big names that sell the pictures and you want them front and center. So if you can’t fit their whole body, just use the head!

  4. Raquelle – Yes, once the magic of the floating heads is exposed to you, you can’t see anything else! You are exactly right about the big names being the draw for the films. That is why the Polish posters are so much more interesting, because they are freed from all that commercialism. It’s pure art, as the designer intended. I still love the vintage Hollywood posters, but I think it’s good to have the proper perspective on them.

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