Sunday, November 8, 2009

Poster Trends: The Magritte Look

Continuing my focus on modern poster designs that pay homage to famous artists, I now present The Magritte Look.

This trend's a bit harder to expound upon because it's not very common, but it has appeared in enough posters I've seen to make me wonder how many more are out there that I just haven't found.

There's just something about Rene Magritte's Son of Man, huh?

Rene Magritte was a Belgian surrealist painter from the late 20's to late 60's. His work often portrayed odd and puzzling scenes in a very straightforward style, as if he were painting a still life. In his own words:

"My paintings are visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question 'What does that mean'? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

I love that. His paintings are great. There's such a palpable attitude to them. A very dry humor coupled with a sense of wonder.

He painted things other than guys in bowler hats floating or standing around...

...but Son of Man and the other bowler hat paintings are the ones that designers refer to when they really want to portray their movie as "offbeat." I think it works, but it can be a cheap move. It's too easy to just mimic such a prolific image and force those associations on the viewer. However, I think the best example of its use is in the poster for David Cronenberg's, Naked Lunch.

It's a variation on Son of Man, instead of a more direct parody of it, like the posters for Everything is Illuminated and Toys. It's taking the layout and applying it more obliquely to the subject matter of the movie. The texture and color of the image are great, too. It's like an old photograph. The humor is there, but it's unsettling in a way that Son of Man isn't.

Next time on Poster Trends, The Warhol Look.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ikea Hacker

The Ikea Hacker blog is such a great idea. Apparently there have been so many great ideas for alternate uses for Ikea furniture that someone decided they needed put all the ideas in one place. Ikea's products are all build-it-yourself, and the directions they provide have been known to be notoriously frustrating:

People can upload their hack instructions using video or pictures. All the ones I've seen are fairly ingenious and very helpful. I found this one particularly useful, since I have pretty big cat in an apartment with very little storage space:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flip Book Animation by Donato Sansone

Here is an absolutely fantastic example of animation innovation. Well, more accurately, it's a new way of looking at an old method. You have got to see this:

VIDEOGIOCO by Donato Sansone from Enrico Ascoli - Sound Design on Vimeo.

I can tell there's some After Effects (or a similar program) being used to manipulate the edits here so they more effectively deliver the illusion of consistent movement between frames. The sound effects are extremely well chosen, too.

Could a style like this be used to tell a longer story? Sure, but it might become tiresome and uncomfortable to watch. A style like this, that is so un-polished, could really only be used for something this short, but what a style it is. There's a lot of raw energy and creativity at work here.

Paranormal Activity, Mockumentary Horror, and Simulated PTSD

I saw Paranormal Activity a couple weeks ago and, despite my reservations about all the hype, it seriously got to me. I think it's great that this whole "mockumentary horror" thing has become its own genre and we can no longer just dismiss them as Blair Witch knock-offs (see Cloverfield, Rec, Diary of the Dead). It's an extremely effective method of immersing the audience in a horror scenario and using their imagination against them. When done well, they can reach classic status, as we've seen, though they can be incredibly divisive films.

I've heard people coming out of the theater saying things like, "I want my money back," or, "That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen," and I can't understand it. Well, actually, I can understand it, I just can't agree. People see this being called the "scariest movie of all time" and go in expecting it to fail. Their expectations are so unreasonable they feel they don't need to do anything to engage themselves in the experience. A movie like this needs you to be willing get lost in it. If you fight it at all, it doesn't work. Sure, the same could be said for any movie, but with these, in particular, the fact that they try to simulate reality with a method that inherently carries the association of being "real" (handheld camerawork, improvised dialog, etc.) we tend to be even more critical of its verisimilitude than we would with a more traditional movie.

Personally, I don't really have to try very hard to suspend my disbelief for something like this. I've been a horror movie buff for as long as I can remember, and when I see something like this, I want to be scared. I enjoy the thrill of a simulated feeling of danger, so I put myself on the edge of the proverbial cliff, intentionally. All the movie has to do is give me that little shove and down I go. Though this does not mean that I'll fall for anything that calls itself "horror." The torture porn craze (Saw, Hostel, etc) lasted for about three movies for me, and even that was two too many. And the seemingly endless, over-budgeted wave of remakes (House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, Last House on the Left) hardly get a passing glance.

The bottom line is, if all the elements are in place and it's a well-crafted piece of filmmaking, I will submit myself to its powers with vigor.

Paranormal Activity had all the elements in place. Aside from a few moments when the actors underplayed or overplayed scenes, this was an extremely well-crafted entry into the mockumentary horror genre. This much, I hoped for. What I did not expect, however, was the lingering fear that ended up ruining my night. I was jumpy and anxious, wary of dark spaces and couldn't be left alone without nearly being overwhelmed with panic. It sounds ridiculous, but on a purely physical level, it makes sense: when you're stuck in a dark room, staring intently at a screen for almost two hours, reacting to every strange sound, movement or reaction from the characters, you're guaranteed to be in that state of mind for a little while afterward. It's like an extremely mild, temporary form of post traumatic stress disorder.

Of course, having a wild imagination helps, and there are scenes in Paranormal Activity that leave much to the imagination; things you hear but don't see. These things did a number on me, too, because I just couldn't stop thinking about what those things could've been or what could've actually happened. It was hard to shake.

So if the natural progression of horror films over the years has led to the creation of the mockumentary horror genre, what is the next logical step? Will it rely on an entirely new technology to become more immersive? It seems so. What more could be done with a film or video camera to make a movie seem more real than this? The only thing I can think of would be sort of a Candid Camera, reality-TV kind of scenario; the people in the movie wouldn't know they were in a movie. But then there's all kinds of liability issues which would push producers to manipulate events and feign reality (just like the reality-TV shows of today) so that concept is out the window.

I can't even begin to guess what the next big technological leap in filmmaking will be. Some form of virtual reality? Probably. For the time being, though, a well done mocku-horror-mentary will do just fine.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Marketing Stumptown Investigations to the Diehards

I'm a big noir head. Films noir, novels noir, comics noir, sci-fi noir, neo-noir, you name it, I'm interested. There's been a big resurgence of noir appreciation over the past several years, and the comic book industry has become a real hotbed for the best of the best noir on the market (see 100 Bullets, Scalped, Criminal, and the unfinished Stray Bullets).

Which is I'm so hyped for Stumptown, an upcoming series written by Greg Rucka (co-writer of an excellent superhero/noir hybrid called Gotham Central, a series told from the perspective of the detective unit in Batman's Gotham City). And it's a private detective story, the most classic archetype in all of noir fiction, second only to the femme fatale.

The indie comic publisher, Oni Press, has come up with some very cool little ways to market the series. First of all there's this fake yellow pages entry:

Check out some of the names up there, too. Every single one of them is a reference to famous (or obscure) private detective character or agency, whether from books or film. Of course you have Spade & Archer, as in Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon. And also P. Marlowe, as in Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep. But then he's even included Valiant & Valiant. The detective agency from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Awesome.

This is definitely niche marketing, but I'll be damned if they don't have their target audience - me - in the palm of their hand. I'm very anxious to get my hands on this series. And it's a female protagonist, if you'll notice. Not many girl P.I.'s out there. This will be a treat.

Oh, and the Stumptown website? Well, it doesn't exist, but if you go there, you'll see this:


That number actually works, too. If you have a chance, call it right now. It's another great bit of interactive, immersive marketing.