Alien treatments

How was Blue Velvet marketed in Italy? Or The Birds promoted in Poland? Film may be an international language, but Yolanda Zappaterra enjoys a book of movie posters which shows how different cultures require very different graphic takes

In a world where a Gap ad in Eastern Europe is almost identical to a Gap ad in London, New York or Buenos Aires, it may be hard for young designers to believe that cultural differences – and the designer’s understanding of them – once played a vital part in the design of advertising and marketing material for different markets. But as a new book by Sam Sarowitz, Translating Hollywood, fascinatingly illustrates, movie posters for individual countries and regions varied dramatically, and these variations were almost entirely driven by the cultural nuances and mores of those markets.

Whether it was diverging ideologies, like attitudes to sex, race or religion, or a country’s cultural relationship to colour, layout and typography, or production issues like the regional availability of technology, stock and printing, the results could vary widely as designers made informed, intelligent creative choices to advertise and promote the same movie across various countries and cultures.

Sarowitz, a self-confessed movie-poster buff who owns the NY Posteritati film poster gallery in New York, has taken a cross section of posters that not only span decades and genres – from obscure B-movies and cult sci-fi flicks to blockbusters and French New Wave cinema – but also three key filmmaking hubs – Hollywood, Japan and France. By showing posters for some classic movies such as Reservoir Dogs, The Birds, In Cold Blood, Alien and Mean Streets, and putting them next to their global counterparts from markets as diverse as the UK, Poland, Argentina, Belgium, Cuba and much of Eastern Europe, it becomes clear that global homogeneity is a very recent trend.

The most interesting examples in the book are those that deal with films whose core might be hard to define – German, Italian and Polish posters for David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, for example, could be promoting three completely different films, while the American and Polish posters for cross-dressing comedy Tootsie show clearly the differing attitudes to transgender issues in the two countries.

But even the films with more obvious themes, such as fear and horror, are fascinating to compare. The posters for Hitchcock’s The Birds, for example, all take Hitch’s brand of psychological fear made physical as their starting point, but resolve it in very different ways. Sarowitz’s enjoyable captions point up the differences without ever becoming samey, obvious or irrelevant, to create a film book that’s likely to be of value as well as pleasure to designers everywhere.

Translating Hollywood by Sam Sarowitz is published this month by Mark Batty Publisher, priced $45.00 (£23)

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