While riding on the bus or subway, I often entertain friends (read “drive them crazy”) by critiquing the posters on display, and relating in great detail how I would design them differently. So I was very excited when offered the opportunity to review the new book by Matthew Chojnacki, Alternative Movie Posters from the Art Underground.

After praising early movie posters and their artistic value separate from the quality of the movies they represent, Chojnacki laments the fall of the poster during the 1990s. He writes in the book’s introduction, “The poster was reduced to simply communicating who was in the film, instead of conveying the bigger picture — the spirit of the film.”

This book, then, seeks to present alternative movie posters that are art in and of themselves, and that also capture the spirit of the film, not just the facts. It’s a tall order. Chojnacki describes the posters in the book as “masterpieces from across the globe, created by amazing and eclectic artists that share a common bond — mixing design and film in a blender, with stunning results.”

I’m not sure, in general, that mixing random things in a blender is a good idea, and that principle sometimes applies here as well.

Don’t get me wrong – a lot of these posters are great. I really like Maxime Pecourt’s poster for On the Road, which cleverly combines the single long page on which Kerouac wrote the novel with an image of a car on a winding road.
Poster for 'On the Road'

Chris Thornley’s vision for The Bourne Legacy conveys an unsettling sense of vertigo by setting the point of view from below, looking up through looming buildings, as a small figure jumps across the chasm of sky – which also forms a question mark. This is a compelling synthesis of storyline and emotional content, a definite capture of the spirit of the film.
Poster for 'The Bourne Legacy'

The Eraserhead poster by Adam Maida is appropriately gritty and unsettling.
Poster for 'Eraserhead'

I like this poster for Alien by Godmachine. It highlights the similarities between Ripley and the alien, here presenting them both encased in their carapaces. The comic-book style is well-suited to the science fiction movie.
Poster for Alien

And I am fond of Matthew Esparza’s poster for The Lost Boys, not just because the movie was filmed here in Santa Cruz, but also because the designer playfully uses the dark central area as both sky and ground, an anchor for the key elements and episodes pictured.
Poster for Lost Boys

Each poster in the book is accompanied by the designer’s name, contact information, and his or her answers to a few questions about such things as favorite movies, design influences, and preferred medium.

One disappointment I had in reading this book is that a lot of the posters are derivative. One can talk about one’s design influences, but I would hope a designer would take that as a jumping off point, not as a call to imitation. There are a lot of Mad Magazine influences, and Saul Bass has many, many design progeny.
The Bass-o-Matic

My second criticism is that, in many cases, Chojnacki almost does too good a job of pairing posters. On first read, I thought they were pairs of posters by the same artist. In fact, many are side-by-side examples of posters by different artists but with style and content so similar they seem to have been done by the same designer, and a designer who repeats the same ideas or images over and over at that. I would have preferred it if Chojnacki had chosen a complete hodgepodge of posters, showing the breadth of the alternative movie poster movement, rather than trying to highlight similarities. Or, to further his blender analogy, if he had gone all the way to puree.

Still, these are quibbles. If you are a movie fan, if you are a poster fan, or if you’re a fan of interesting design, and especially if you’re all three, this book is well worth taking a look at. I find it improves with repeated visits, since there is just so much visual information.

Alternative Movie Posters
Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground will be published by Schiffer Publishing on October 28, 2013.