Of all the ‘movie brat’ generation, no other director captured my imagination more than Francis Ford Coppola. And back in my film school days that obsession was, more than any other film, inspired by his lyrical, personal, stylish 1983 teen melodrama Rumble Fish. Shot back-to-back right after the more successful (although, I find, slightly cloying) companion S. E. Hinton adaptation The Outsiders, Coppola showed his range by switching out the honey-hued magic hour glow of the former for a luminous, German Expressionist-inspired monochrome pallet – all the better to capture the stark Midwestern heat of the Tulsa, Oklahoma summer. Retaining some of his extraordinary young cast from The Outsiders – Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – as a young high school couple, she as concerned, high achieving girlfriend Patty, he as fiery, shiftless young gang leader Rusty James, and adds Mickey Rourke as Rusty’s near-mythical older brother The Motorcycle Boy, a philosophical, long-absent gang leader finally returned home.
The film’s unusual sound mix and beautiful black-and-white visuals are intended to take us into the headspace of The Motorcycle Boy, colour blind and suffering from hearing loss. He floats through the film, half-smiling to a joke only he seems to hear or understand, whispering non-sequitors and alternately fascinating and infuriating Rusty as the younger boy desperately tried to impress him. Coppola spoke eloquently about how his own hero worship of his older brother August inspired his take on the story – the film is dedicated to him.
Inspired by one of my absolute favourite films, the bruising, brilliant 1972 prison vengeance tale by Shunya Itō. Meiko Kaji plays Nami Matsushima, or as she is dubbed, SASORI – a wronged woman betrayed and left to rot in jail by a sleazy cop on the take, targetted by sadistic guards and malicious inmates alike yet persevering with a piercing gaze that demonstrates her indomitable will to exact her revenge.
Truly one of the stand-out exploitation films of its era, or indeed any era, the film inspired 3 direct sequels with Meiko Kaji in the lead (which I intend to create further designs for), a subsequent two-film 1970s run with Ryôko Ema and Yôko Natsuki attempting to take over the mantle, and a slew of later remakes, reboots and ripoffs. Meiko Kaji, at the time gaining renown for her run in the Stray Cat Rock series, balked at studio Nikkatsu’s drift towards ever more graphic sexual content and jumped ship for Toei Studios to take the lead and sing the exquisite theme song for the film. And while this first entry into the Kaji quadrilogy doesn’t skimp on the exploitative elements of the pinku genre, it wields them in a pointedly, angrily, defying any male-gaze viewer to treat the scenes as mere eye candy before thrusting a shard of blood-splattered glass right through their cornea.
The poster was created by stitching multiple screenshots, which were whittled down from dozens taken from throughout the running time, from the film together after running each through various processes to achieve the aged, grainy riso printing style. The middle section, for example, drops a cropped-out image of Nami into an unrelated crowd scene, which was then superimposed over a shot of a prison escape later in the film, with a slew of clone stamps and texture layering to try to hide the seams. Missing elements (such as arms or the tops of peoples heads), or areas where props or background obscured or confused the image, were either painted in or carefully removed manually. Areas of light and shade were added to ensure clarity using a variety of brushes, often a pixel or two wide, to avoid affecting the riso effect. The overall design idea came about extremely quickly during a slow-moving day at work, as you can see from this extremely comprehensive sketch. During the process, a simplification of the design and colour scheme emerged, and I found it more interesting to work under these restrictions – just the dark blue and white of the prison uniforms, and the yellow lettering and light blue background of the original release poster logo.
This terrifying mug belongs, as Meyer Gothic Period aficionados will be well aware, to the actor who I thought was the magnetic standout of this era of Russ Meyer’s career – the great Hal Hopper. Where my Lorna poster was understandably dominated by the gorgeous, statuesque figure of lead actress Lorna Maitland, the lust object of the various collection of creeps, rogues and saps who surrounded her, 1965’s Mudhoney is totally dominated by the manic, mirthless grin of agitator-in-chief Sidney Brenshaw, so the poster should follow suit.
Despite Meyer having said he concocted the film purely as a vehicle for his new squeeze Rena Horten (casting her as a mute, sexually voracious yet thoroughly innocent prostitute – a choice which creates a whole heap of cod-psychologising that deserves exploration elsewhere), the evidence on film very much suggests otherwise. At 92 minutes, it is his longest film, notwithstanding his studio productions at 20th Century Fox or certain cuts of his unsatisfying adaptation of Fanny Hill (during production of which he met and fell for the aforementioned Horten) and without doubt the film that most resembles a ‘real’ drama. This Depression-era dustbowl melodrama sees John Furlong (later a regular face in Russ’ filmography all the way through to Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, who occasionally popped up in such varied fare elsewhere as the Hulk Hogan vehicle Suburban Commando and John Carpenter’s Vampires) as down-on-his-luck ex-con Calif McKinney. He blows in to a small town in Missouri, where he takes up as the odd-job man on old Lute Wade’s farm. He develops a crush on Wade’s kindly niece Hannah Brenshaw, but her despicable, abusive drunk of a husband Sidney takes it upon himself to concoct an increasingly wild scheme to paint this interloping newcomer as a threat to the moral fibre of the town, enlisting oddball preacher Brother Hanson to help stir the pot.
Hopper, so thoroughly reptilian and vicious in Lorna before being humbled and cowed before the film’s end, is totally let loose here. The film opens with Sidney, shown only from the knees down as he stumbles from a rowdy bordello house and in to his car before careening home as the titles roll. Arriving home, he crashes in to the steps of his house to wake his terrified wife – we are inside with her as he breaks through the bedroom door to accost her and the effect, after such a suspenseful build, is chilling. Drunkenly stalking through Lute’s farm, whiling away the months until the old man croaks and he can inherit the farm and sell it off to live a life of lascivious luxury, spending what little cash he has at the brothel of the cackling Maggie Marie, and eventually allowing his jealous fixation on Calif to cause him to spiral in to a deadly obsession, Hopper is the phenomenal centrepiece of a film whose full-throated craziness is blackly compelling. For me at least it’s Meyer’s underappreciated masterpiece – seeing him work without the handrails of camp (well, less than there is in his more cartoony triumphsa little later in his career) and to a more-or-less traditional 90 minute dramatic structure, its surface normality only highlights the inimitable weirdness that suffuses every frame.
I’m dreadful at allowing myself time for this kind of sketching, so this poster will likely see completion some time in early 2022. This is the first element of what I hope will be a panorama of all the major characters.
My extremely talented friend Matt Ridley wrote and directed a short film, in his adoptive country of South Korea. The Self-Seers is an atmospheric, melancholic and stark piece that sees a high school student struggle under the weight of educational expectation, the unique and sometimes repressive influence of the Christian community in the country, and the implacable feeling of a shadowy second self. See for yourself below:
After a successful run on the independent short film festival circuit, he has now released the film for general viewing. To mark this, he hired me to create a release poster, plus supplemental graphic material he could use to publicise its release. Having seen the film a few times and being super impressed with its stark, monochrome imagery (achieved with a remarkably small amount of equipment and crew), I jumped at the chance. During its festival run, Matt had been using a still frame of lead actress Song Na Rin as Yu Ye Ri, leaning her head against the window of a bus with her reflection fuzzed out by the scratched panes of glass. I knew this would be my key image, as the delicate, contrast-y lighting would lend itself well to my preferred method of working with white pencil on black paper.
I then took the disturbing nocturnal vision of Ye Ri’s shadowy other self wrapping around her, and intended to create a realistic pencil sketch in photo negative as a mirror image of that same frame. I liked the challenge of fighting against instinct to reverse how the eye sees light, to see whether I could draw the reference picture accurately. But, as Matt pointed out, this ran counter to how the vision appears in the film – darker, not lighter; a shadow, not a light. He shared a hazy, unsettling photo manipulation he had made.
I changed tack a little, instead using another image from within the film of the kids’ notebooks being filled with scratchy, threatening, hastily-drawn line images of these shadowy figures. This time, I only drew in the outline, and the facial features in sketchy, quick motions. I had already decided to incorporate another strong, key visual from the film – the neon cross that dominates the small town’s skyline. Taking from this the hazy corona glow that the cross kicks off, I added this washed-out light haze to the sketch lines to appear as if the apparition, while dark, was glowing, motivating the light source on Song Na Rin’s face. I also hoped that the light haze would make the void within it seem darker by contrast.
My sketch completed, I knew I would have to adjust the layout for the landscape format YouTube cover image. Because the sketch was made on black paper, and photographed at home using a lighting set up of two softbox lights at 45-degree angles to the sketch, I would have to photograph a blank sheet of the same paper to use as a blending tool. There’s no digital way to fully recreate the random nature of how each piece of paper will react to the light source – you can clearly see in the sketch, for example, that the top and bottom of the drawing is darker than the centre, as even on such a small surface, the lighting will always be inconsistent. A time-consuming additional labour, for sure, but one that is kind of essential when working in a purely hand-drawn medium. These pencil sketches really don’t integrate well in to digital environments.
Matt provided his original titles from the film – drawn on Procreate in both English by Matt, and in Korean by the film’s producer Shin. While experimenting with the layout, Matt felt that the 2nd figure wasn’t quite capturing how he had interpreted it, and I felt that while the integration of both the English and Korean titles was a good idea, it was crowding the top half of the poster and diminishing the sense of space.
By layering the blank paper underneath the sketch and erasing and blending as needed, I removed the 2nd face from Matt’s final draft and replaced with the English title – this seemed to help the balance a lot. Matt’s idea was to add the Korean title at one corner, inspired by a DVD cover he had seen. I liked the use of it. We added 10 film festival laurels (there were many more!) and debated on including any credits. In the end, only Matt’s Scarious Artists production credit made the cut, in the interests of minimalism.
While editing the poster, I experimented a little by combining Matt’s preferred draft with my version that still included the ghostly 2nd face. I think it adds a layer of nice, weird intrigue, and I think it’s my favourite of the bunch. I added his ‘film by’ credit, and relocated the Korean Hangul title, giving it more prominence and filling some empty space. But I, of course, think Matt’s choice was the correct one for the film poster (it is, after all, his film!) as it focusses the eye more easily and showcases the title and the tone more successfully. Call this a remix.
Finally, I used the blank paper to extend the piece horizontally to allow for a different arrangement of the festival laurels for the YouTube still image, and then cropped down to 1080×1080 pixels for an Instagram post, including one 1080×1080 blank black paper square to include quotes or any other text as an image carousel.
Big thanks to Matt for entrusting this release to me, I hope you all check out his fantastic film!
I read about Jimmy McDonough’s extraordinary biography of the inimitable, proudly disrespectful auteur Russ Meyer, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, kinda by accident in a stray magazine article. I remembered having seen Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! several years earlier as part of a loosely defined weekend tribute to The Cramps, big fans of Meyer’s work, and figured I’d give it a read as I thought the film was pretty amazing at the time. Little did I know that this brilliant book would spark a total fascination with his work – the kind of fascination that only comes with seeing a weird man lay out the most base and bizarre parts of his psyche for all to see without the pesky filters of good taste or meddlesome industry requirements.
1964’s Lorna, Meyer’s first foray outside of the “nudie cutie” genre he basically pioneered with the 1959 feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, was, of course, driven at least in part by his insatiable appetite for financial success in the burgeoning exploitation market. As he would proudly boast, he got in to the business to get rich, and get laid. But what fascinates me is the meticulous technical artistry which he brought to bear on his films – the innovative camera tricks, pin-sharp focussed and gorgeously lit visuals (usually using reflectors to harness the harsh light of his often desolate locations), and drum-tight editing that stands out from his pack of innovators who were usually content to drag meaningless, shabbily shot scenes out in pursuit of nothing more than the contractually-obligated runtime and minimum amount of indifferently presented nudity to sate the suckers in the cinema stalls. That, and the twisted and increasingly manic plots he trotted out. In Lorna, the kickoff to the Gothic/”roughie” phase of his career, this takes the form of a parable of sorts – a wild-eyed preacher/narrator (scriptwriter James Griffiths, who dashed off the screenplay in 4 days) halts the audience as it hurtles down a desolate highway, warning us of the immorality and shame that lie beyond. As he steps aside, we alight in a bleak little nowhere town, and meet a pair of shady, no-good scumbags and their hapless, blandly handsome co-worker. They cajole and bully him over his beautiful but inattentive wife, the titular (…) Lorna, played by pneumatic newcomer Lorna Maitland. Cue another sleazy gent, an escaped convict who happens upon Lorna indulging in some extended skinny dipping in a filthy-looking lake, and a whole lot of overwrought tragedy ensues.
The main image of the poster portrays Lorna lost in a reverie for a life of go-go neon excess and excitement that she so desperately craves, a phenomenal, overwhelming montage of champagne and pearls. Leering from above her, against a foreboding background of the stark and thorny swamp that is her dreary daily reality, are the three lascivious degenerates that desire her, alongside her sadsack spouse.
The final artwork dimensions are 30cm x 60cm, with each copy professionally giclee printed in archival quality lightfast pigment inks with extraordinary lifelike rendering of the pencil and paper textures of the original sketches, on Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308gsm paper. This is a limited run of 64 signed and numbered prints.