29 February 2012

Representing Vanya

Louis Malle's Vanya On 42nd Street is, at it's heart, a performance of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya. By some estimations one of the best captured on film. That isn't what the film is about though --well, not entirely. It's also a representation of a time in the early 1990's when André Gregory had been rehearsing and performing Uncle Vanya as a form of underground theater --squatting in decrepit Broadway playhouses for invitation-only audiences. 

Criterion had some beautiful production photographs by Brigitte Lacombe they wanted to see as covers. I was asked to see what I could make with them, using the photos as either a collage or as single images. They also were up for my take on the cover without the photos if I had one.

The film's jazzy opening down 42nd Street inspired the subway type cover. The movie begins with hit of New York and it seemed appropriate to incorporate that apsect into the cover. The script page in the background is from Uncle Vanya:  the opening lines that are spoken as the film transitions from the world of New York to the world of the play.

I made several collage covers but the cast photo by itself worked best for the story Criterion wanted to tell for the release --of how these individuals came together to create this theater experience. 

That said, there was some concern about the black and white imagery. It's a beautiful and commanding photo but might someone assume Vanya On 42nd Street is a black and white film? I explored type solutions looking for ways to use color that might lead audiences to expect a color film but Criterion felt that a full color option was also needed. Just to be sure.

There's a curtain call at the close of the film around the same table that appears in the Lacombe shot. I put together some covers using it. Frame grabs don't have the same quality as a still photograph but it was as close to a color version of the photo that was available. In the end Criterion decided to stick with the black and white. 

Dispite intitial misgivings, the subway type cover was still in play and being discussed. Criterion liked the script page background. Could it be incorporated with the photograph? Superimposing all those words wasn't working for me. Something naturalistic seemed more appropriate for this occasion. So I chose a photo-as-object solution --paper-clipping the photo directly to the script page. That was a choice which clicked with Criterion and so the cover was chosen.

27 February 2012

Vanya on 42nd Street

Vanya On 42nd Street comes out February 28th on the Criterion Collection label. This is Louis Malle's final film and it reunites him with André Gregory and Wallace Shawn of My Dinner With André. It's a completely different kind of work this time around yet no less compelling. André Gregory had been rehearsing Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya for some time in a derelict Broadway theater. Although he never intended the play to be performed in the conventional sense, he would invite select audiences to attend the rehearsals. This film is a document of that --though it's by no means a documentary.

Document then became the order of the day for the packaging. I'll elaborate on the cover design process in a further post in the next day or so  --along with some alternate cover designs I want to share. For now, here is the cover as well as menu designs for the DVD.

The cover photograph is by Brigitte Lacombe. Photography for the menus --as well as many throughout the booklet-- are by actress, Brooke Smith documenting rehearsal, film production and her time in general with cast mates and, no doubt, fond friends.

• The Criterion Collection

23 February 2012


This Saul Bass poster for Anatomy of a Murder is a version which didn't circulate as prominently as the rest. The insert features a depiction of the rape which takes place before the events of the film. That's Lee Remick's cropped face. And the figure acting the scene with her? None other than director, Otto Preminger.

22 February 2012

Reading Material

The Penguin Book edition of Anatomy of A Murder by Robert Traver, designed by Saul Bass, foregoes the orange and red color scheme used for the film's promotion in 1959.

21 February 2012

Now Playing

"The symbol became so synonymous with the film that it was possible to remove the actual text of the title in certain instances."
Saul Bass, A Life in Film & Design
Jennifer Bass & Pat Kirkham

This clipping from the Los Angeles Times amply makes the point. It gives too a sense of what typical newspaper film advertisements looked like then and how much Bass's work challenged those conventions.

This post, as well as the two following, show some Anatomy of a Murder material you won't find in the Bass biography. But then it would have been considerably more than 424 pages to include everything that came out of his studio. Get this book!

• Saul Bass, A Life in Film & Design

19 February 2012

Anatomy Of A Murder

The Criterion Collection will release Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder on Tuesday, February 21. Really, what else could possibly make the cover but the great, Saul Bass poster art for the film's original release? Bass wrote the book on film branding and he did far more than the iconic anatomized silhouette that adorns the one sheet. He developed a campaign which was rigorously applied to a host of collateral materials: press releases, letterheads, screening invitations etc. which culminates in one of the great title sequence experiences designed for film.

Criterion enabled me access to the Saul Bass Papers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/ Margret Herrick Library where I was able to see first hand those materials. Exciting stuff for this graphic designer, film buff and resident Angeleno. It hugely informed the design of this release.

Presented here, in addition to the cover featuring the aforementioned Bass one-sheet art, is the wrap-around cover for the booklet insert --my version of another, lesser seen Bass one-sheet-- as well as some examples of the DVD menus. Thanks and much appreciation to producer, Susan Arosteguy, art director, Sarah Habibi and art production coordinator, William Brese.

Click any image to enlarge.