On the heels of Krafty’s Polish Blues Brothers poster acquisition, I thought I’d write a bit on the genre at large. Poland has had a really unique relationship with poster design. The country emerged so devastated from WWII that it took much longer for TV and other communication technologies to make serious inroads, so the poster maintained this weirdly elevated status through the 60s, 70s and 80s. Poland formalized poster design to unusual degree (poster designers were taught in rigorous university programs, then went on to work in unions and accept state-controlled flow of jobs) and embraced it as a kind of national idiom. Polish posters tended to go in for a cheery, folkloric look in the 60s but then developed into something entirely different in the 70s and 80s as a strange, melancholic introspective style evolved.
There’s a lot to like about Polish film posters. For one, simply the fact that artists were allowed to work in this idiosyncratic, gloomy style while promoting films and not railroaded into some kind of generically upbeat, promotional mode. Second, the highly personalized interpretations of film themes (sometimes, you wonder if the designer had even seen the film or was merely working from a synopsis). Mostly, the fact that technological limitations freed designers from having to maintain a slavish realism in their approach. The production means weren’t available to reproduce stills from the movie at high quality, so it was sort of taken for granted that the designer’s solution would involve a certain amount of creative latitude. Sometimes, the technical limitations were turned on their head and used for effect, as in the Zloto Alaski poster where the black-and-white halftone pattern is made so big that you see it as a weird deliberate texture. Finally, in a state-controlled industry, nobody needed to promote themselves, so you don’t have that requirement that every damn person involved in the movie has to be listed along the bottom of the poster in type so condensed that no one can read it anyway.
There are too many good examples of Polish poster work to just select a few, so I limited myself to posters of American westerns.
Top: Midnight Cowboy, Waldemar Swierzy
Bottom, clockwise: Pat Garret & Billy the Kid, Mieczcyslaw Wasilewski; North To Alaska, Jolanta Karczewska; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Waldemar Swierzy