The Kid Brother

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Harold Lloyd’s back inThe Kid Brother; the fourth Criterion Collection edition featuring the comic great.

I’ve been fortunate to design each of these — partnered with the terrific Sarah Habibi, art director at Criterion— and it’s looking like the visual motif established with the first outing, Safety Last!, is sticking. That is: take a character-defining image of Harold from the movie that also makes room for a treatment to exist realistically within the picture (as opposed to being superimposed over it).

Easy to say but you gotta have the image that lets you do it. Thus far we’ve had remarkable good luck in threading that needle. No small part due to the work of smart production photographers that knew great set-ups when they saw them. Many of Lloyd’s sight gags that can be —and often were— reduced to a still image. I suspect that this visual economy has, in part, worked to sustain his image over the years —and they’re still funny.

The Kid Brother isn’t a straight-up western but Harold play a small town sheriff (of sorts) and it take place in old California. (Take note location mavens. Glendale, California has never since looked so bucolic nor Catalina island quite as venturesome.) Those elements would be essential ingredients for the cover image and ideally I’d want to show both.

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I pulled stills of what I considered to be the best cover candidates and made quickie, proof-of-concept designs demonstrating how each of might play. It seemed pretty obvious which was strongest of the lot and best described the movie. The runners-up were repurposed in the packaging and DVD menus. Waste not. Then, with an image we liked, I designed a series of title treatments to occupy that space on the floor of the porch.

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Wood type seemed to be the way to go here for it’s associations with the western genre plus a little something with deco allusions to tie it in with our hero. The treatments look a little awkward in this form. It’s not until they’re laid into the picture with Harold do they take on some life. The top-heaviness goes away as soon as its reduced by single point perspective. You may have noticed egregious mis-spelling of the star’s name in these work-ups! My occasional dyslexia at work again.

What follows are images of the package interior as well as samples of the DVD menus.

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Suburban Birds

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I’m pleased to share this poster I designed for Qui Sheng’s enigmatic Suburban Birds. This is Sheng’s debut feature and it’s a crazy-wonderful puzzle box movie. Two, three?, stories braided into one. Perhaps two or three genres even. A special thank you to the folks at Cinema Guild, particularly Peter Kelly, for inviting me on the project.

The King of Jazz

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King of Jazz is crazy pants. It’s a two-strip Technicolor fantasia directed by John Murray Anderson that’s been lovingly restored in all its lurid, can’t-look-away glory and presented in the highest quality by the Criterion Collection. If you know anything about music of the 1930s then you may question the movie’s assertions concerning jazz royalty. Such questions would be grounded in reason. You may need to put reason aside for this one in exchange for the unfolding spectacle. Giant pianos! Showgirls that tower over the streets of Manhattan! Oswald the Lucky Rabbit! All singing, all dancing, King of Jazz just about has it all and it’s brought to you through the strange magic of the two-strip Technicolor process. Red and green may not fully render the color spectrum but what color it does render is glorious.

The risque cover to this edition is a repurposed, vintage Film Daily advertisement that likely promoted the picture to exhibitors. It required some work to make the art camera-ready for the package. Art Director, Eric Skillman, provided it with the ad copy already removed. It was then up to me to recreate the lettering along the bottom in order to accommodate the director’s name. We also wanted to remix the color so that it drew from the two-strip palette and integrate better with the film imagery used throughout.

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The name of the game with King of Jazz is variety. The structure of the movie owes more to vaudeville than the conventional Hollywood musical. There are some spoken intros and a handful of skits but there’s no over-arching narrative. It plays like a night at the Orpheum only with the overlay of seriously inventive movie magic.

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It felt to me the best compliment to that structure is to cram as much variety into the typography as possible, so that the pages of the 16 page booklet as well as each screen of the DVD menus would offer something special at every turn. The type styles and techniques come straight from the jazz age yet were filtered through the movies quirky sensibilities.

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The collages, mirroring and kaleidoscopic imagery in the booklet —all techniques used in the movie— are born of practical necessity. The pictures are all frame grabs from the movie. Even when the source is high resolution, it tempts the fates to use frame grabs from a movie of this era. The grain structure can be formidable. You’ve got to reduce the size of a picture in order for it to tighten up. By creating backgrounds that are assembled of multiple frames that have been reduced over all, the integrity of the pictures hold up a lot better. The feeling I hoped to impart with the booklet was something that felt like a theater program handed out of the night of the big show.

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La Vérité

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A courtroom procedural, a family drama, a tale of impulsive and wayward youth, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La Vérité is many things, not the least of which is it’s star, Brigitte Bardot. The Criterion Collection has a tradition of period Bardot illustrations on it’s covers. (Contempt, And God Created Woman) Their edition of La Vérité is no different. The image for this one—or at least the photo from which it’s created—was used for the original release, although I haven’t found the poster that uses exactly this painted version. (If anyone recognizes it, please let me know.)

The movie’s title translates as the truth. As the story unfolds, we see the truth, subjective as it is, as a weapon turned on anyone getting in it’s way. How best to present the title? The artwork is stark, dramatic and, well, Bardot. Competing with that face is a fool’s errand. The type should be evocative but not competitive.  Best to back off and compliment what’s there. I looked at white title treatments as well as gray ones but they muddled the illustration and diminished the impact of the black background. Red seemed like the best choice for color. Symbolically it hits the right notes. (passion! blood!) Plus it shares the space with all that blackness without taking away from it —or her.

There’s a pleading quality to Bardot's face here so I tried a few solutions with the title close to her mouth — suggesting the truth was her’s to utter. That works. The ones at a larger scale superimpose the truth as a label for the movie. The truth in this configuration belongs as much to the story as a single character. That works too. 

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The serif samples, above, are something I drew up based on the movie’s main title card. You find a lot of typefaces like this in mid-century French films. There was a vogue for old style serif’s like Georg Trump’s Trump Medieval and this one shares those qualities. The painterly title treatment invokes a counterculture/protest vibe that, to me, was both simpatico with the cover portrait style as well as the discontents given voice throughout the movie. It would be another eight years before the youth of France would take to the streets but seeds of ‘68 are in evidence in la Vérité. The geometric sans serif has proportions more suited for signage than the printed page and so imparts an institutional quality. There’s a cold, objectivety to it. The consensus leaned toward a sans serif but one that didn’t go on top of the illustration as much. This version would have been lost had it been simply scaled down, so that led to the condensed sans serif that became the cover.

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The typeface is Alternate Gothic. It has an unfussy, utilitarian affect. At this scale it shouts like a newspaper headline yet its also the kind of typeface one expects to encounter on any number of bland, ministerial forms of, say, a police department, a woman’s prison or the justice system. Name, address, date of birth, check all boxes that apply —that sort of thing. There are reams of paper evident throughout the film. We hardly get a close look at them except to see they’re all typewritten documents and forms. There are piles on the courtroom tables and under the arms of lawyers. The reports, the depositions, the motions, all of it comprising the truth in the form of paperwork underpins the courtroom scenes as supporting player. The cover, the packaging and the DVD menus for la Vérité are designed to support that through-line.

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