- Gallery:Poster Art as Cultural Labor in the Cinematic Archive of Claire Denis
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The history of film production runs in fascinating parallel to the history of film.—Dave Kehr, "Still Images Promoting Moving Pictures"1
Unlike its functions and deployment, the film poster has hardly changed during the past century. Remarkably, the standard measure persists—27" x 41"—although sizes vary in correspondence to the number of "sheets" in a poster. "Earliest posters," contends Dave Kehr, "emphasized [End Page 144] the act of movie-going itself, showing rapturous audiences in front of giant screens" and the "actual content of the films mattered little. …"2
As posters vary in their intervention in every day consumer culture, they take on distinctive functions for specific audiences, and like other forms of mediation, they engage with the intersectionality and cultural discourses of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc., as well as the unconscious and the needs it harbors and drives. In doing so, a poster may be legible but not necessarily intelligible and evoke associations that mask or simplistically frame assumptions about the social world.
Broadly speaking, the efficacy of a poster—a movie poster—pivots on iconic images and gestures, and such formal features as composition, scale and aesthetic elements, among other representational factors. An art form, it must appeal to the eye in order to evoke interest in its subject much like what Roland Barthes refers to as the punctum of an image that at once commands the viewer's eye and subjective association.
Apart from their commercial utility, movie posters call attention to themselves as they signify events and facts they purport to represent. In the hands of a skillful illustrator or graphic artist, they promote ideas and associations with all manner of things and events, and alter or reinforce taste and consumption.
During moments of civil conflict and war, a poster's salience and utility can be especially critical, if not decisive, depicting the tumult, displacement and resistance occasioned by such events. In a 2011 exhibit on Iranian posters held at the Indiana University Art Museum, Elizabeth Rauh claimed that "Perhaps more so than at any other moment in recent history, posters served as powerful modalities for mobilization and communication during the Iranian Revolution (1979) and Iran-Iraq War (1980–88)."3
In this regard, the deployment of posters on behalf of "revolutionary" mobilizations labor to transform consciousness and transformational processes. The visual language can vary stylistically from abstract constructivist to traditional and the folkloristic. Some posters during the Russian and Iranian revolutions illustrate these styles.4 In the case of Cuba—where, in the first decade of the post-revolutionary period, an "extraordinary renaissance of poster art" occurred—their function, David Kunzle argues, was not only to transmit ideological messages but also to serve as "embellishments of the film and of the streets, where they were posted on specifically designed 'paraguas.'"5
To illustrate, consider these examples of protest posters:
• The role of the Atelier Populaire ("Popular Workshop") in support of the anti-capitalist strikes, occupations and police repression in France during the May 1968 uprising and its enduring [End Page 145] resonance today against police brutality in the Black Lives Matter movement.6
• The deployment of protest posters during the first Intifada that foregrounded the resistance and aspirations of the Palestinian people against the Israeli "Occupied Homeland."7
This gallery, comprising of select posters and DVD jacket covers of Claire Denis's film oeuvre,8 foregrounds the organizing thematics of this uncompromising filmmaker whose sustained interrogation of postcolonial subjectivities—cosmopolitan and otherwise—is legendary and, arguably, without equal among cineastes.
Each poster references a film and has its own story to narrate. Each—we could say—is self-reflexive, questioning itself as it depicts the film it claims to represent. And each is a constituent of a film's promotional and exhibition history.
Determining a poster's message and purpose involves interrogating its formal features and utterances, written and visual, as well as the subliminal concerns it provokes in the viewer's...