SPF One-Sheet: American Summer Movie Posters vs. Their European Counterparts

The Art House

Summer has always felt like a bit of a fever-dream: a series of months bound by haze and heat that, by the end, paint a picture somewhat estranged from reality. Unsurprising, really, when you take a step back and look at the burden placed on a single season’s shoulders. We spend the majority of our year mulling forward, clinging to a few months that offer an elusive promise of getting away from it all. It’s not always possible, of course, and there are some years that are better than others, but even they have a way of making themselves somewhat memorable (if only through heatstroke). They’re allowed to occupy a place that stands in sharp contrast to the other eight or nine months out of the year, harboring on an ideal that’s often out of reach during the fall or winter when life feels tethered to a more narrow path.

That’s how I’ve always seen it and, call me crazy, it's also how I’ve felt whenever I’ve dipped my toes into the oasis that is Eastern European poster art. There’s a similar sense of abandon mixed with a dreamlike sense of storytelling within it that couldn’t be further from the more rigid structures in much of the advertising from mid to late 20th century America. The imagery often exuded a personal, specific vision that played on a more lyrical level rather than literal, undercutting some of the more odious aspects of communist rule. Posters from the Eastern Bloc bordered on traditional art, imbued with an unmistakable energy, while their American counterparts (not without its charms) often housed itself in tried and tested methods of mass communication.

But energy isn’t necessarily always enough, and often times commonplace structures yield equally compelling work that speak more clearly to an audience than those thriving solely on one’s passionately personal interpretation. A poster is a film’s ambassador and has a responsibility to the audience it’s attempting to draw in: speaking honestly to a story and it’s themes shows a respect for the filmgoer to make a relatively informed decision for themselves about what they want to see. Tossing all that out in favor of something engaging yet tonally inappropriate places the viewer at a disadvantage, and you’re left with work that borders on art for art’s sake in arena aimed at having a conversation with those you most want to tell your story to. Regardless, there’s something captivating about those things that feel inseparable from a haze of abandon, existing to give hope to the creatively forlorn.

The way in which films were marketed both here and beyond the “iron curtain” gives a sense of that tension, with studio releases during the summer months in America allowing for a clearer picture to be displayed by two differing schools of thought. What better time of the year to see the full might of the US advertising engine pitted against techniques from overseas than in the sweltering months adorned by Hollywood studios?  But while the heat is great, it’s best to remember that there’s beauty in the crisp, autumn weather - even if the sky appears a bit dull.

"Innerspace" (left: US, John Alvin/Intralink, right: Poland, Andrzej Pagowski)

"Die Hard" (left: US, right: Poland, Maciej Kalkus)

"Ghostbusters" (left: US, right: Czechoslovakia, Petr Poš)

"Big" (left: US, right: Czechoslovakia)

"Jaws" (left: US, Roger Kastel, right: Czechoslovakia, Zdeněk Ziegler)

"Alien" (left: US, Philip Gips, right: Czechoslovakia, Zdeněk Ziegler)

"Escape from the Planet of the Apes" (left: US, right: Poland, Andrzej Mleczko)

"Airplane!" (left: US, right: Poland, Witold Dybowski)

"The Omen" (left: US, Tom Jung/Murray Smith, Poland: Jan Mlodozeniec)

"Rocky II" (left: US, right: Poland, Edward Lutczyn)

"Rosemary’s Baby" (left: US, Philip Gips, right: Poland, Wieslaw Walkuski)

"The Empire Strikes Back" (left: US, Roger Kastel, right: Poland, Jakub Erol)

"Zelig" (left: US, right: Poland, Wiktor Sadowski)

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" (left: US, Richard Amsel, right: Poland, Twardowska)

"Young Guns" (left: US, right: Poland, Jan Mlodozeniec)

"New York, New York" (left: US, right: Poland, Jan Mlodozeniec)

"Labyrinth" (left: US, right: Poland, Wieslaw Walkuski)

"Betrayed" (left: US, right: Poland, Wieslaw Walkuski)

"The Swarm" (left: US, right: Poland, Andrzej Pagowski)

"The Day of the Locust" (left: US, David Edward Byrd, right: Poland, Rene Mulas)

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