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The Art House: The Beautiful Movie Posters of Post-War Germany

the art house

Imagine a time and a place where normal marketing methods didn’t dictate process, where the goal of making a poster was to reach an audience who were actually interested in film. Reaching people with an idea is what mattered, not whether something should be redder or bigger or isolate every single last supporting character from an upcoming blockbuster. Production costs and techniques may have been limited, but those restrictions bore a well of creativity. From the early 1950s until the late 1970s, such a place existed in a briskly evolving Europe. With cinema found lacking in post-war Western Germany, three distribution companies began carving out names for themselves, bringing home from abroad a diverse set of art house films coupled with a unique approach to advertising. The approach to crafting a movie poster in America was felt to be an exhausted avenue unsuitable for the needs of the Western German public, and so Atlas Film, Constantin Film, and Neue Filmkunst each sought out a burgeoning group of young artists to bring forth a new means of visual communication to the public.

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For over two decades, they painted, drew, used photography, mixed media, and made montages, employing different methods based off of the different subject matters within each respected film. Everything was up for grabs, from the literal to the surreal and the symbolic. And the output was astounding: more than two hundred posters were created, ranging from advertisements for silent American classics to the New Wave of Truffaut and Godard, each striking yet appropriate in their own way. Ferry Ahrlé, Karl Oskar Blase, Heinz Edelmann, Fritz Fischer and Dorothea Fischer-Nosbisch, Hans Hillmann, Jan Lenica, Günther Kieser, Hans Michel, Isolde Monson-Baumgart, Gunter Rambow, Gerhard Lienemeyer, Wolfgang Schmidt, and Tostmann Werbetechnik brought new life to well known favorites for an audience hungry for the best that cinema had to offer.

But as the years passed, businesses changed hands, priorities shifted, and some distributors found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to file for bankruptcy. The need for specially designed posters caved under economic pressures, and the artists responsible for much of the work that came out of the post-war period said goodbye to the world of film while continuing to focus their talents elsewhere.

Forty years later, an expansive body of work remains that not only continues to inspire designers the world over but distribution companies aching to set themselves apart through good design coupled with a good product. It stands as a testament to the beauty in an ever-changing and evolving visual language born from the story itself rather than the style of the day.

"Alexander Nevski" –  Jan Lenica, Atlas Film

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"An American in Paris" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"The Job" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"Arsenic and Old Lace" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"The Silence" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"The Gold Rush" - Rambow + Lienemeyer, Atlas Film

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"Wild Strawberries" - Ferry Ahrlé, Constantin Film

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"Hold the Bomb a Minute, Darling" - Heinz Edelmann, Atlas Film

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"Too Bad She’s Bad" - Heinz Edelmann, Atlas Film

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"Ladykillers" - Heinz Edelmann, Atlas Film

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"Le Petit Soldat" - Jan Lencia, Atlas Film

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"Black Tights" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"The Blue Angel" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"Ivan the Terrible" - Isolde Monson-Baumgart, Neue Filmkunst

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"The Seven Year Itch" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"Battling Butler" - Hans Michel, Atlas Film

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"Last Year in Marienbad" - Tostmann Werbetechnik, Constantin Film

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"Last Year in Marienbad" - Tostmann Werbetechnik, Constantin Film

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"Jour de Fete" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"Smiles of a Summer Night" - Fischer-Nosbisch, Atlas Film

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"Belle de Jour" - Hans Hillmann, Neue Filmkunst

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"A Woman is a Woman" - Hans Hillmann, Neue Filmkunst

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"For a Fistful of Dollars" - Hans Hillmann, Constantin Film

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"Breathless" - Hans Hillmann, Neue Filmkunst

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Visit the SeekandSpeak Tumblr to see more incredible German movie posters.

Read the previous installment of The Art House: The Trials and Tribulations of Minimal Movie Posters

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