The Incredible Lightness of Polish Film Art

When it comes to movie posters, it’s hard to beat the Poles. They see posters as more than a publicity tool; to them it’s the chance to create an auxiliary piece of art. Regularly cranking out the kind of conceptual work associated here almost exclusively with Saul Bass (who is dead, I might add), they’re not afraid to lead off with a humorous uppercut, even if it’s tonally incongruous with the movie being advertised.

(And let me interject just one quick aside here: that crutch just slays me.)

Some of the most effective ones splurge on symbolism with the abbreviative powers of a good political cartoonist. In fact some of the posters resemble nothing more than coded comments about a certain style of government.

It’s also interesting which qualities of a movie its posters will choose to emphasize. Where the American poster for The Great Escape pushes its stars and an action scene that doesn’t really exist in the movie,

the Polish poster picks up on that oddly serene interlude just after the mass escape, when the movie’s energy, after being cooped up in the Stalag for two full hours, suddenly breaks free, radiating outward across the countryside as the escapees employ everything from a rowboat to a stolen Luftwaffe plane in their dash for freedom.

Mostly I like these posters because they have something bigger on their minds than making me hie my ass to the nearest movie theater. More gaudy than truly colorful, most Western posters are nothing more than visual P.A. systems with an ever-diminishing sense of playfulness. But the Poles, sometimes needing only a very few lines and a little color, can express a movie’s essence—and often something more.

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