Judging Countries By Their Covers: East vs. West Movie Posters

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A couple weeks back, we took a side-by-side look at the US and UK book jackets for several of our favorite books to see if you could, indeed, judge a country by its covers. Then we got to thinking about the posters that different countries attach to American films that make their way to their shores; there’s plenty of classic Hollywood advertising iconography out there, but more often than not, studio marketing departments play it very safe when they’re advertising their movies (simple designs, big pictures of actors’ faces, etc.). Independent artists and designers are having quite a bit of fun nowadays taking an artier pass at classic movies’ posters, but what about foreign distributors? We recently stumbled upon Cruzine’s brief history of the film posters of Poland and Czechoslovakia, complete with wonderful examples. Join us after the jump to check out how the East saw the films of the West, and which designs we prefer.

The African Queen (1951)

Here’s a perfect first comparison: The Hollywood version is all about the two big stars, their names dominating the poster, the image something off of a Harlequin romance cover. It is, let’s be honest, an absolute snoozer. The Polish poster, by contrast, is wonderfully, gloriously weird. Winner: East.

Casablanca (1942)

The U.S. poster was designed by the great Bill Gold, who also worked up the iconic posters for A Clockwork Orange, The Sting, and The Exorcist, and it’s one of the most famous movie posters of all time (Steven Soderbergh all but Photoshopped his Good German actors into it for that film’s tribute poster). On the other hand, the Polish design is stark and startling, without a face on it — just the gun in hand. Both are wonderful, in very different ways. Winner: Draw.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The original U.S. poster has a marvelous simplicity — Jake and Elwood in their suits and shades, the Bluesmobile, the depressingly white sky and industrial landscape, and a truly great tagline. Grzegorz Marszalek’s Polish poster has a wonderfully surreal quality, but the original is ultimately a better match for the material at hand. Winner: West.

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

The Polish pass has a marvelously irreverent quality that recalls the B.C. comic strip, Mad Magazine, and the comic book Groo the Wanderer (although it pre-dates the latter of those). The American version has Raquel Welch in a fur bikini. Winner: Raquel Welch in a fur bikini.

Cabaret (1972)

“Life is a cabaret!” announces the cheery domestic poster for Bob Fosse’s tricky musical, giving no hint of the picture’s dark themes or downbeat tone — both of which are captured beautifully in Andrzej Pagowski’s knockout Polish design. Winner: East.

M*A*S*H (1970)

Tough call here. Grzegorz Marszalek’s Polish design has a charmingly cartoonish quality that fits the movie like a glove — this could go on a Criterion DVD cover. But the American poster (designed by Diener-Houser, who also worked up the classic posters for The Graduate, Chinatown, and Saturday Night Fever) has got that enduring image of the leggy peace sign, which perfectly summed up the anarchic spirit of Altman’s masterpiece. Winnner: West — but just barely.

Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Speaking of peace signs… Harry and the Hendersons was a late ’80s comedy about a friendly Bigfoot, and its domestic art was about as memorable as the movie itself (sorry, fans). But the Polish poster by Jakub Erol turns Harry’s hairy hand into a charming image of goodwill towards his less-hirsute friends; it’s a strange choice, but an ultimately successful one. Winner: East.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

With its light-in-the-horizon imagery and simple but thrilling “first kind-second kind-third kind” copy, the U.S. poster for Spielberg’s sci-fi masterpiece manages to conjure up the film’s sense of childlike wonder. Andrzej Pagowski’s poster, on the other hand… well, what the hell are we to make of that? We should check the translation, because this looks more like a poster for the E.T. rip-off Mac and Me. WINNER: West.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Is it just us, or does Jakub Erol’s Polish poster look like E.T. just got his drank on? Weird moment of the movie to seize on for your poster art, dude. Winner: West.

After Hours (1985)

Both images for Martin Scorsese’s dark comedy about a regular guy trapped in an endless New York nightmare are effective at conveying the picture’s sense of helpless claustrophobia. But the delicate shading and dark charcoal quality of Andrzej Pagowski’s design gives it the edge. Winner East.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

The domestic art for Gus Van Sant’s pseudo-Shakespearean tale of male hustlers adopts something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” pose: look at these handsome fellows in our movie! That is not the case with Edmund Lewandowski and M. Mankowski’s evocative poster, which puts the film’s raw sexuality front and center. Winner: East.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

That hand-drawn image of your new favorite hero, Indiana Jones, whip over his shoulder, fedora perched atop his rugged head, was the work of the great Richard Amsel (he also did poster for Flash Gordon, The Sting, and all those Agatha Christie movies). It’s heroic, exciting, and unforgettable. But there is also something wonderfully off-the-wall (and more than a little disturbing) about Grzegorz Marszalek’s Polish poster — it may not get the spirit of the movie quite right, but as a piece of oddball art, it’s glorious. Winner: Draw.

The Lover (1992)

Jean-Jacques Annaud’s adaptation of Marguerite Duras’s semi-autobiographical novel was pretty spicy stuff — it was the tale of a teenage girl’s illicit affair with an older Chinese man in Vietnam, circa 1929. But none of the film’s taboo eroticism comes across in the dreary domestic poster. Basically, all you get from it is that there’s a girl in it, and a boat. Zzzzzz. Andrzej Pagowski’s Polish poster, on the other hand… Winner: East.

The Sugarland Express (1974)

The original poster for this early Steven Spielberg effort looks like the cover of a true crime book; a gun, a photograph, some bullets, a teddy bear, some handcuffs. The Polish poster, by Rene Mulas, uses bright colors and eye-catching imagery to pique our interest; where the domestic poster tells us everything, the international version tells us nothing, but makes us yearn to know more. Winner: East.

What do you think of these Polish posters? And do you agree with our picks?