Whereas Art Of The Modern Movie Poster takes a geographic approach to its content, Translating Hollywood opts for a chronological ordering (and is also accompanied by an index – something the former book, the much larger of the two, desperately needs).
Based on just one collection of posters (Sam Sarowitz again – many of the posters appear in both books), the title suggests the specific focus of the book – the translation and interpretation of artwork for different audiences. Rather than finding posters for the same film pages apart, Sarowitz groups two or three different versions on a spread, and then offers some commentary on what you’re looking at.
Without exception, this structure exposes fascinating juxtapositions. The philosophical staring-into-space, sitting about-ness of the American Cool Hand Luke poster gives way to a Japanese version dominated by the promise of sex and violence; Army Of Darkness turns from knowing heroic imagery to multicoloured pop-art (complete with Warholian cans of Bruce Campbell soup); and The Big Lebowski … well, The Big Lebowski is going to be a crazy poster no matter what language it’s in.
Both books offer plenty in the way of eye candy, but Translating Hollywood benefits hugely from actually having a central thesis. Both, however, suffer a little from their origins in dealers’ collections. When viewed as works of standalone art, as valuable artifacts in their own right, rather than their original purpose – adverts – their meaning changes. We see very little of posters from the last fifteen years, presumably because they are not yet of any great monetary value, so no modern classics like Funny Games or Lost In Translation (which would seem rather appropriate here) to bring things up to date.
This is a shame, because there is no connection to how the marketing role of film posters has changed with new technologies. You’re just as likely to see a “poster” (those quote marks becoming ever more necessary) on the Internet, linking to a trailer or a review, as you are on a bus stop. So perhaps these books are best viewed as retrospectives of an era of printed marketing, a system facing a radical shift in purpose.
If you want a dip-in coffee table book, go for Art Of The Modern Movie Poster. For a more eye-opening read, one that has something to say about the increasingly international nature of design, go for Translating Hollywood. Just don’t expect to learn much about the art of today’s film posters.
Originally written for the designer's review of books.