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Movie Poster of the Week: The Lesser-Known Posters of Jean-Luc Godard

On the occasion of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's major retrospective, a smorgasbord of Godard posters.
Adrian Curry

To accompany the exhaustive retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard (49 programs in 21 days) that started as part of the New York Film Festival and runs through the end of October, I had planned to select my ten all-time favorite posters for Godard’s films. But when I sat down to the task and laid out the ten I’d chosen in front of me, the result was a selection of posters so overly familiar as to be banal. It looked like the postcard rack of any film bookstore in Paris. Much as I had hoped to choose less obvious designs, when it came down to it the posters created for Godard’s films in the 60s are hands down among the greatest film posters ever made: Clément Hurel’s Breathless, Chica’s Une femme est une femme, Jacques Vaissier’s Vivre sa vie, Georges Kerfyser’s Band à part and Une femme mariée,  René Ferracci’s Made in USA, Two or Three Things I Know About Her and La chinoise, Georges Allard’s Contempt, and, my favorite of all, Jean Mascii’s Alphaville. Coming at the time that he did, Godard profited from the tail end of the great tradition of French poster illustration (Mascii being among the greatest), and the new revolution in photo-montage spearheaded by Ferracci.

So, remove the all-stars and what does that leave? In the 70s Godard had all but abandoned conventional theatrical film distribution, hence fewer posters, and by the time he returned to it in the 80s, the quality of poster design had, in general, undeniably declined. 

But Godard has made 40 features and his films have been released all over the world, so there is a huge well to draw on of international designs and it isn’t hard to choose an additional twenty posters that are, at the very least, interesting.

While scouring the world for Godard posters I did notice one thing: while Godard may be the most avant-garde of popular filmmakers, the posters for his films do not in general aspire to the same level of experimentation. There is a sense of that in Ferracci’s cut-ups in the 60s, but overall the feeling conveyed by Godard’s designers in the early years is one of hipster cool. I get the feeling that with Godard being both major, and yet difficult for a general audience, there is an attempt by distributors and promoters to make his films look a little more conventional than they actually are. Kudos then to Cannon, distributors not known for their subtlety, for their brilliant King Lear poster at the top of the page. I love how Gerald Scarfe’s sketches nod to the notorious napkin contract for that film, whether that was the intention or not.

There are two more notable exceptions to the rule: Germany’s Hans Hillmann and Japan’s Kiyoshi Awazu, both of whom have endeavored to deconstruct Godard over the years, or at the least represent his special qualities in unusual, or very personal, ways. Here are Hillmann’s minimalist posters for Vivre sa vie, Masculin féminin and Weekend:

And here are Awazu’s colorful collage posters for La chinoise, Weekend and Vent d’est.

I didn’t include Ferracci’s La chinoise—a poster I’ll always remember hanging in the office of New Yorker Films when I worked there—in the best-of montage above, solely because of lack of space, but perhaps more than any other Godard film La chinoise seems to have inspired designers to push the corners of the envelope, as with this 1996 Japanese re-release:

Last year I wrote a piece about the various foreign posters for Alphaville, of which this Danish comic-style design is my favorite.:

And I wish I had seen this 1985 German poster for Détective when I did my recent post on the use of neon signs in movie posters.

Though I’m not a fan of the typewriter font, I do love this 2001 poster for In Praise of Love as one of the best of Godard’s later posters, and one that really captures the pixellated beauty of his digital work.

To go back in time, the black and white US original release poster for A Woman is a Woman is, to say the least, far less triumphantly feminist than its French counterpart in which Anna Karina balances Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Brialy in her hands. The US poster, which I present merely as a curio, reduces Godard’s muse to a winking, underdressed nymphet...

...while the Italian poster makes the film look like a torrid, Visconti-esque melodrama:

There are a number of other international posters for Godard which I enjoy for their wrong-headedness, for the way they seem to miss the mark or want to promote Godard as something he’s not. For example this sexed-up Mexican Masculin féminin...

Or this German Breathless (I have no idea what’s going on here with the two Belmondos)...

And then there’s the US Contempt, or should I say Contempt!... 

...and the Spanish Band à part which at least gets the joie de vivre of that film right...

To get back to more on-target designs, this Japanese Pierrot le fou wonderfully expresses the colorful, sun-drenched vibrancy of that film...

But at the other end of the color/fun spectrum, is one of the few posters that uses lettering with the same kind of witty yet blunt force that Godard revels in: the US release poster for one of Godard’s least compromising features, Numero Deux...

Another poster that uses lettering in an almost Godardian way is this 1982 French re-release poster for Sympathy for the Devil, here with its correct, original title...

Finally, one of my favorite Godard posters of the past twenty or thirty years is this US design by Kim Maley, for Notre musique. I wish I could find a better scan of it, though the grain adds to the desired effect.

I’m sure my readers will have many other favorites that I have missed here. Feel free to link to them in the comments below. 

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ColumnsFestival CoverageJean-Luc GodardMovie Poster of the WeekNYFFNYFF 2013
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