Susan Pack is a Princeton graduate and former copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi New York. She is also the owner of one of the biggest collections of Russian Avant-Garde film posters in the world.
A new book from publisher Taschen showcases 250 designs from Pack’s collection. Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde includes posters by Constructivist sculptors and set designers the Stenberg brothers, architect-turned-poster designer Mikhail Dlugach and the artist, photographer and graphic designer Alexander Rodchenko.
Most of the designs featured were created in the mid 1920s – a time when cinema was still a new art form and some of Russia’s most prominent artists were employed to create adverts promoting the release of domestic and international productions.
These artists played with scale and perspective to striking effect. As Pack writes in a foreword, “[they] experimented with the same innovative cinematic techniques used in the films they were advertising, such as extreme close-ups, unusual angles and dramatic proportions”.
They also experimented with new print techniques and technologies – including lithography, photography and photomontage – and made bold use of colour, employing vivid greens, pinks, blues and reds to advertise black-and-white films. “There were no rules, except to follow one’s imagination,” writes Pack.
While thousands of posters were printed, few remain – in part because of the ephemeral nature of the designs (posters were often discarded once a new film was released) but also because they were usually made on poor quality paper. Pack claims only a handful of copies of many designs from the era have survived.
Dlugach and the Stenbergs were the most prolific film poster designers of the era: the Stenbergs created over 300 posters in the 1920s and Dlugach over 500. Artists would often be asked to create a poster in less than 12 hours: “Both Vladimir Stenberg and Mikhail Dlugach recalled that it was not unusual for them to see a film at three o’clock in the afternoon and be required to present the completed poster by ten o’clock the next morning,” writes Pack. “With foreign films, the artists often had to work from only a brief summary of the film and publicity shots or a press kit from Hollywood.”
Their designs are a far cry from film posters today, both in their ingenuity and in the range of techniques and styles they employ. As Pack notes in her introduction, they would have been a startling sight on the streets of Moscow.
The book’s release marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution – an event that also prompted an exhibition of Russian art and design at the British Library and a forthcoming season of events on BBC One. (The Avant-Garde art movement is explored in Revolution – New Art for a New World, a feature-length documentary that airs on BBC Four next month.)
This period of artistic experimentation was brief – in 1932, Stalin announced that only “Social Realist” art would be permitted in Russia and the Avant-Garde era quickly came to an end – but the designs featured in Taschen’s book have had a lasting influence on graphic design and remain some of the most memorable film posters of all time.
Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde is published by Taschen and costs £14.99. You can order copies at taschen.com