Polish Posters Of Classic Films Are Next-Level Beautiful
You may well have noticed that these days a lot of film posters look the same and every genre seems to have its own visual stylistic rules.
Contrasting blue and orange colour blocks already suggest that we are about to watch an action movie. A dazzling yellow background stands for quirky indie productions. Of course, there are countless other examples like the close-up on a terrified eye for horror movies, a suspenseful shot of the protagonist from behind for superhero movies or the newest cliché a close-up on a character’s face with lots of spaced-out clean typography.
You get the jist of it, once production companies find a successful marketing recipe they’ll stick to it as long as it sells tickets. But for a few decades a movement in a communist country had been existing that pushed its individual style to a new extreme, in ways that even for today's standards seem absolutely crazy and radical: Welcome to the insane history of Polish movie posters.
You might have heard of great western poster illustrators like Bob Peak, John Alvin, Richard Amsel or Drew Struzan. Maybe you’re even familiar with Noriyoshi Ohrai, as a cultured japanophile. Granted, everyone of them is a legend in his own right but while these artists created incredibly detailed drawings with a heavy commercial appeal, the art of polish movie posters is an entirely different beast with a long history deeply rooted in the country's past.
Without getting into too many details about who went to war with whom in the last couple of hundred years, just know that Poland or rather the Polish people were under constant attack from outside forces. At one point the country was even erased from the map for a substantial amount of time and its territory was split between Prussia, Austria and Russia. These threatening circumstances shaped a mentality of resistance which is deeply ingrained into the Polish collective mind. But despite all these existential crises a significant artistic community was thriving with its epicentre in Krakow.
These painters were influenced by Jugendstil, Cubism, Modernism and architecture in general. Of course there are dozens of influential names to be mentioned, but Tadeusz Gronowski (1894 -1990) is the most important one. He can be single-handedly credited for establishing the so-called school of Polish poster art. Thanks to his connections to the pioneering scene in Paris (where the modern poster was invented) and his innovative use of the newest tools available, he was able to create powerful images that left a long-lasting impression.
After WWII Poland saw one dictator being swapped for another and it was completely put under communist rule. Fine art was now basically censored by the Stalinist regime. But luckily there was a surprising twist of events that created an amazing loophole. The state-owned film industry, represented by the “Film Polski” (Polish Film) and “Centrala Wynajmu Filmow” - or in short CWF (Movie Rentals Central) hired artists to work on poster designs for movies, but they absolutely didn’t care what they would look like.
This created a unique situation and a renaissance of Gronowski’s poster school in which creatives were granted nearly unlimited artistic freedom to do whatever they wanted, without any interference from the government or big Hollywood studios. By the 50’s movie poster design had de-facto become the only form of unregulated artistic expression and became a starting point for at least three generations of artists who switched from fine arts to graphic design. Without any commercial constraints the resulting images were absolutely wild interpretations and a far cry from the western originals. No headshots of the starring cast, no pictures of an impressive scenery and no fancy title design. Instead the artists got creative and found clever ways to represent the themes and movie titles in a symbolic and more abstract way using striking colours, eccentric visuals and witty metaphors.
The 50s and 60s marked the golden era of Polish movie posters and of course the 70s and 80s had their fair share of awesome designs as well. Unfortunately and due to multiple reasons, mainly advancing computer technology and of course Poland becoming independent from the CCCP which ultimately dissolved in 1991, this way of producing promotional material became obsolete quickly.
Continuing from the 90s onward every movie poster looked the same as anywhere else and physical releases of movies from that period got an updated version closer to the original artwork. But due to popular demand special editions with alternative designs still get commissioned occasionally to keep the old tradition alive and collectors are willing to pay exorbitant prices for original- and reprints alike.
See below for more dreamier examples from 40 (or so) years ago...