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.