ScreenFonts: Miracle at St. Anna, The Duchess, Blindness, Choke, Ghost Town

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, ScreenFonts | Yves Peters | October 21, 2008

Time sure flies when you’re having fun, and preparations for my trip to San Francisco didn’t help. We’re past due for this episode of ScreenFonts. As usual I take a look at the posters of movies currently being released in the USA, both wide and limited. My main focus is the type used on those posters, yet that doesn’t stop me from voicing my opinion on the overall design. When there’s nothing interesting to tell about specific posters I will simply gloss them over. Life’s tough. ;)

The posters below are from the second half of September.

I’m not sure how I managed to miss the poster for Flow last episode, but I think it’s a brilliant in its simplicity. It does fit in the recent trend of having hand drawn posters for indie movies, but it is a very efficient one. The flat cyan background makes the black and white graphic pop out. I like it when a designer gets the message across in such a simple and straightforward way – the drawing itself is easy to understand and perfectly translates the theme of the movie. The hand drawn outline type also is very well executed. Reducing the 3D movie title to its shadow is a nice touch, further simplifying the design and letting the drawing of the tap being the centre of attention. People who want to achieve a similar hand drawn sans serif look have quite a few digital fonts at their disposal, including:

And if you’re looking for digital fonts that emulate hand drawn serif faces, Stephen Coles once compiled an impressive list on Typographica.

The poster for Miracle at St. Anna shows some interesting image cropping. The arm with the U.S. Army 92nd Infantry Division military patch (Buffalo Soldiers) is just enough information to situate the action in the Second World War, and the protecting arm wrapped around the Italian boy “tells” the rest of the story. The square sans looks close to Gagarin, but the rounded corners look less rounded so I’m not sure what this typeface is. The subtle reference made by the crosses in the “A”s is a very nice touch.

The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela has a very joyous poster. The juxtaposition of urinals with the royal colour purple – referring to the “Queen” in the movie title – creates a surprising tension. The urinals themselves are a not so subtle – but altogether quite funny – hint that the woman sitting on one of them actually is a transsexual. I’m less enthusiastic about the type. Optima has never done it for me – I have gone on record that I don’t much care for Hermann Zapf’s trademark curves and design details. Plus I would’ve preferred a more regal typeface, something like Akira Kobayashi’s FF Clifford or FF Acanthus (it’s no coincidence I picked Kobayashi as an example ;). Also the hand written tag on the bathroom tiles is not very convincing. In my opinion there are better fonts that simulate fast all caps tag-like writing, like Andy, ITC Berranger Hand, MVB Dinkscratch, FF Fancywriting, Flood, Jakob, FF Market, FF Soupbone, Squickt, or even FF Erikrighthand.

I was intrigued by the geometric sans on the poster for Nights in Rodanthe – which isn’t worth mentioning for the rest. The angled finial of the leg on the R made me think it might either be Bernhard Gothic or Kabel (either the original ATF Kabel or the ITC version). It definitely is not ITC Avant Garde Gothic, although the G seemed more close. Now, I always like a good challenge, so I dove into my reference books – actually Jeff’s as I’m working in the San Fancisco offices this week – and managed to pin it down. It is Litera, a lesser known sibling of the aforementioned geometric sans faces. The typeface shares its large x-height with ITC Avant Garde Gothic but throws some Art Deco flair into the mix.

Though the teaser poster of Blindness does remind me of the brilliant teaser poster for The Dark Knight, it is a perfect design in its own right. The blindness in the title is suggested by the frosted glass which makes the figure on the poster disappear, and the setting of the movie title refers to the eye test at the occulist’s. The main poster seen at the top left is a more mainstream affair with Julianne Moore literally leading the blind. However the fading letters of the movie title – set in Neue Helvetica Extended – are a nice touch. The alternate poster at the top right has a better image. Having the hands of the blind explore Julianne Moore’s face with their hands is a beautiful metaphore for the theme of the movie. I’m just not entirely convinced about the alternated in and out of focus Franklin Gothic used here.

Choke has a rather text-heavy poster. The design in red and black features an arresting cut-out profile of the protagonist choking on a woman whose legs are still sticking out of his mouth; a slightly disturbing image. The poster is successful, but the choice of the typeface undermines its power. Myriad doesn’t stack very well and its character shapes are too humanist for this constructivist setting. I would’ve gone for a squarer design, or at least one with superellipse (or squircle – love that word!) curves.

I don’t exactly know why I like the poster for Humboldt County, but I simply do. I have never in my life smoked nor done any drugs (even coffee is too strong for me – I know, I’m an embarrassment to all the other rock drummers out there). So it’s a bit weird that the image of that regular Joe – all relaxed – standing on one mother of a gigantic spliff and overlooking an idyllic forest has such a soothing effect on me. The movie title in Colonna – a digitization of a classic Monotype serif inline titling face – is thoughtfully set, with the capital C touching the baseline of Humboldt at just the right spot. The humanist sans used for the bylines is Robert Slimbach’s Cronos, an unofficial adaptation of Today Sans.

As far as posters for historical movies go, this one for The Duchess is appropriate and works well. It is a nice example of a narrative poster, with the facial expression of the actors and their position subtly hinting at the storyline of the movie – a quick search confirmed that this is about relationships. The monochrome image quality acts as a harmonizing element for the image, and thank goodness the classic capitals are not the dreaded Trajan. Alas I somehow can’t find what it actually is. At first I thought it could be Felix Titling or Perpetua Titling or something along those lines, but no.
:: U P D A T E ::
You can always rely on the Typophile Type Identification Board team. I had barely published this post and they already had identified the classic serif caps as Shàngó Gothic.

Another narrative design is the poster for Ghost Town. Of course this one greatly benefits from the brilliant “acting” of Ricky Gervais – as most of you may know currently one of my favourite British actors. The look on his face speaks volumes, and you immediately grasp that (a) this is a comedy about ghosts, (b) Ricky is being harassed by them, and (c) he is not happy. Actually, the title may be a give-away regarding (a)… All type is set in verytightlytracked Futura and I don’t want to comment on that.

Obviously I can’t say much about the type on the poster for Igor. It is not even type but custom designed letters composed of loose parts, just like the Frankenstein-like monster in the poster. Quite funny and well done (I guess assembling the characters from actual body parts might’ve been taking the analogy a tad too far :P). The rest is Gill Sans Ultra Bold and Ultra Bold Condensed a.k.a. Gill Kayo as is customary on posters for comedies.

That’s it for this episode – till next time! :)

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  1. That Raquella poster is really bad. Whenever you see a white outline stroke added to distinguish type from its background you know it was set by an amateur. This violation is even more heinous than the dreaded drop shadow in most cases, and especially in a humanist typeface like Optima where the refined pen strokes are severely damaged by a harsh, monolinear outline. It only works with geometric or grotesque type of sufficient weight.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Oct. 21, 2008
  2. Dude, lighten up — I was talking more about the image than the poster itself. I guess you can’t even see the image because of your type obsessiveness. :D

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 21, 2008
  3. I can’t even look at the Choke poster. Looks like a missing font defaulted to Myriad.

    Oppositely, I love the lettering for Flow. Much better than the likes of Nick & Norah’s Juno Screening.

    Posted by Jeff on Oct. 21, 2008
  4. Wow, I hadn’t even considered that. Could it be that bad!? That would explain a lot though.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 21, 2008
  5. I actually quite like Optima, but I’m with Stewf, its a pretty dreadful execution on a pretty dreadful poster. To me, it is exceptionally bland.

    Posted by David Earls on Oct. 21, 2008
  6. Re: Raquela — Now there’s two laying in on me! I guess I must’ve been charmed by the refreshing smile of that transsexual. :D

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 21, 2008
  7. What is the name for the text which usually sits at the bottom of the poster, is usually set in a compressed sans, and usually contains information about the cast, studio, editor, cinematographer, etc.? Is it mandated by some Hollywood union? It seems incredibly consistent in format and content across almost all movie posters I’ve seen.

    Posted by Leon on Oct. 21, 2008
  8. Leon — I don’t know if it has a proper term, but my understanding is that the poster credit style originated because studios are under contract to print certain stars’ names at a certain height. For some reason width was never stipulated — only height — so it became common to use the most condensed type possible in order to fit all the credits in.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Oct. 21, 2008
  9. I’m with Stephen: that Raquela poster is downright atrocious. Yuck. I was browsing through the article thinking “Yves is gonna have a field day with that one” only to read “joyous”. After some rather desparate attempts at locating any whiff of ironry, I concluded you… Actually. Like. The. Poster.

    Quite the surprise.

    Posted by Bart on Oct. 22, 2008
  10. set in a compressed sans
    Most of the time, it is Univers Ultra Condensed or URW Bee, respectively.

    Posted by Florian on Oct. 23, 2008
  11. in regard to choke, whilst i agree it does look like a substitution, on for glace i actually liked it… the humanist aspect of myriad gave it an almost hand-lettered look… obviously there are many other fonts better suited to this style, butoverall i’m ok witt it. i think if anything it’s the actual layout that lets it down, but even then i think it’s at least 100x better than the raquela poster!

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Oct. 24, 2008
  12. After some rather desparate attempts at locating any whiff of ironry, I concluded you… Actually. Like. The. Poster.

    I agree the design and typography are no good — I was just saying that I… Actually. Like. The. Image. :D

    Oh well, I guess whatever shred of credibility I might still’ve had is shot down the drain now, innit? :P

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 24, 2008

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