In honor of the restored Alphaville playing at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. this week (and here’s why you should see it), enjoy this collection of movie posters for Jean-Luc Godard’s sci-fi−noir classic from around the world. The posters make a strong case that the more original the film, the more inspired the graphic designers who come up with the posters are.
It’s also noteworthy how back in those days, the promotional posters were different — sometimes wildly different — in each country where a film played, unlike today, when movies are more likely to be released with the same ad campaign worldwide (yawn), give or take a few tweaks.
Here’s the iconic original poster for the film’s May 1965 French release, with artwork by Jean Mascii. Rialto Pictures has adapted this poster for the new DCP restoration making the arthouse rounds in the U.S. this year:
A month after the French premiere, Alphaville played the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the top prize, the Golden Bear. The movie got a commercial release in West Germany soon after, in July ’65… but with the title changed to reflect the popularity of the Lemmy Caution character.
Caution was the FBI-agent (and later a private detective) hero of 10 novels by English writer Peter Cheyney that were a hit in France after WWII. In the 1950s and early ’60s, Eddie Constantine became a star playing the wise-cracking tough guy Caution in a series of movies that were successful throughout Western Europe, but which appear to have made little impression in the United States. Godard adopted the name of the character for Alphaville, but ditched Caution’s roguish ladies-man persona and ever-present glass of whiskey. Thus many of these original Western European posters for Alphaville are misleading in presenting the movie as any kind of standard “Lemmy Caution” detective story.
A month later, the movie opened in Italy, again with Lemmy Caution’s name in the title. I like the poster below at right because it exemplifies how, while Godard’s movies in this period were often way ahead of their time, the posters often look more like something from the 1940s or ’50s. The distributors may have been scratching their heads as to how to sell the movie, and simply opted for a traditional approach and hoped for the best.
Somewhat less traditional is this eye-popping Danish poster for the movie’s October 1965 release there. Feast your eyes on this stylized beauty — the artist seems to have taken a cue from old comic strips, just like the movie:
In 1966 Alphaville received some kind of release in Czechoslovakia, inspiring this rather stark poster designed by Jirí Stach:
The movie also got some sort of distribution in the U.S. in 1966, after premiering at the 1965 New York Film Festival. The pull-quote in the poster below got me wondering, could Bosley Crowther (the moralistic New York Times critic who has become one of the biggest punching bags of film-crit history) actually have been right about something?
No, as it turns out. You can read his original review from October 26, 1965 on the N.Y. Times website, and he was as flummoxed by Alphaville as he was by most anything innovative. (We can only imagine how Susan Sontag must have cursed over her morning coffee as she read the review that day.) The U.S. distributor rather shamelessly took — and twisted — whatever words they could out of Crowther’s review to make it sound like a rave:
In 1967 Alphaville made it to Poland, where designer Andrzej Krajewski produced this iconic poster. The bold use of color bears no relation to the movie, which is in stark black-and-white, but Pop Art was clearly making inroads across the Iron Curtain:
Then we come to my favorite of all these posters, from Japan (apparently from 1968). I’d love to have a copy of this framed on my wall, but these go for a pretty penny on eBay and other collector’s sites. To judge from the poster, Anna Karina was better known in Japan at the time than Eddie Constantine:
There are a couple of images from post-1960s re-releases of Alphaville that are worth citing. Any re-release of a Godard movie tends to trade on the director’s reputation, so the poster artists are free to take a more oblique or arty approach; in the case of Alphaville, two designers notably played down the movie’s hard-boiled elements in favor of Anna Karina. At right is a study in poetic gloom by illustrator Fuencisla del Amo, for a 1982 re-release in Spain. (I couldn’t find a larger version of this poster, unfortunately.)
The poster for a Japanese re-release, year still to be determined, strikes a similar note of tristesse:
For more Alphaville posters from Europe, and an interesting look at posters from the earlier Lemmy Caution movies, check out this 2012 Movie Poster of the Week column by Adrian Curry. (Movie Poster of the Week is worth bookmarking or subscribing to, if you haven’t already.)
For more on Jean-Luc Godard, click here.