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Remaking Hollywood: The strange world of Polish film posters

By George Webster for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Posters created during communist era when publicity material was not available from Hollywood
  • Polish artists were commissioned by the state to create alternative posters
  • The posters are now collectors items and change hands for hundreds of dollars

London, England (CNN) -- Two faceless eyes suspended in a scarlet-red sphere drip a solitary white teardrop. It could easily be mistaken for an evocative piece of modern art, but for the names stenciled beneath it: "Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson."

This is in fact the promo poster for "Empire of the Sun" -- just not as we know it.

The image is one of many hundreds that were created in Poland during the country's Communist era, when film distributors were unable to get hold of original publicity material from Hollywood.

"It was hard enough getting the movies screened," Krzysztof Marcinkiewicz, owner of polishposter.com, tells CNN. "Let alone getting access to the whole promotional strategy."

Instead, homegrown artists and graphic designers were commissioned by the state to create alternative posters. The results were often abstract, surreal and beautiful.

"They are just literal translations of the title represented in visual form. But they have nothing to do with the film!"
--Krzysztof Marcinkiewicz, polishposter.com
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Marcinkiewicz explains that graphic designers played a very prominent role in Polish society during the 70s and 80s.

"The political poster was the most important propaganda tool throughout eastern Europe." He says. "This created very strong art schools and a generation of highly-gifted graphic artists."

While political posters had to remain "on message," Marcinkiewicz says that the designers were given much more creative freedom when it came to producing those for film.

"Imagine a world where the objective of the poster designer is not to sell the movie, but to express the abstract concepts within it as he sees fit. You no longer need to cover the whole thing with famous faces and big bold letters."

There was still censorship, but Marcinkiewicz maintains that this was to do with quality control in most cases.

"Everything had to be approved by the Artistic Commission, who had very high aesthetic values. Of course there were a lot of restrictions, but this was mainly focused on which films were allowed to enter the country in the first place." He says, adding wryly:"Why it took 20 years to get "Breakfast at Tiffany's" screened I will never know."

In some cases, the process was so bureaucratic that the designers were unable to watch the films before making the posters to go with them.

"You can see with some that they are just literal translations of the title represented in visual form," says Marcinkiewicz. "But they have nothing to do with the film!"

Whatever the cause of their unique and unusual charm, the posters have developed a cult following and can now sell for thousands of dollars.

Andy Johnson, from the Reel Poster Gallery in London -- which specializes in collectible vintage film posters -- says that there is a steady demand.

"We just sold the Polish version of 'Midnight Cowboy' for $4000." He told CNN. That's capitalism for you.

Nick Hunt contributed to this report

 
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