For this Exercise I’ve chosen the film Kill Bill volume 1 (2003) by Quentin Tarantino and two of the many posters – American and international – which were released in its connection. These two show subtle differences, but adopt basically the same style, typography and colours. Like Pulp Fiction that I was asked to consider in Part two of this course, Kill Bill is a savage, extreme postmodernist work that I love, very free and sophisticated at the same time. A whole literature has been written on this film and this is not the place to get involved in an analysis of it, so I shall limit myself to consider the film only in relation to these posters.
The first impression I get looking at the posters is how the layout has been kept simple and uncluttered with a bold and effective choice of colours, arrangement of elements and typography: a woman stands alone slightly off-centre and holding a sword (a phallic, masculine symbol) on a bright yellow flat background, the dominating yellow is harshly contrasted with black and red for an effect that is slick, polished and very strong.
The woman’s stance is heroic and defiant, exudes power, determination and control. She looks ahead with a direct but impersonal way. She stands alone, beautiful and sexy in her tight leather jumpsuit, especially in the poster on the left in which the zip is left undone at the top, but she is not the stereotyped blonde in need of help from a man. She is the heroine and takes full care of herself, how suggested by her intimidating central position.
The motorbike jumpsuit refers closely to the costume worn by Bruce Lee in the film The Game of Death from 1978, as shown by this picture and like the samurai sword shows Tarantino’s self-declared obsession with Japanese martial arts films and culture. Also the colours are the same: yellow, black, red.
As a colour yellow comes forward, shouts for attention and is full of energy and excitement, but it was perhaps chosen also for other reasons. From a small research I did into the meaning of yellow in Japanese culture I learnt that during the War of Dynasties started in Japan in 1357 the warriors from the South wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage. This flower is in Japan a symbol of the emperor because of its resemblance to the sun (Brown, J. and Brown, J., 2006).
The thick black strip behind the heroine creates a bold contrast to the yellow and underlines and strengthens the determination and willpower emanated from her slender, clear-cut figure. And black, thick and strong is the typeface chosen: elegant, powerful and obsessive, it relates perfectly the powerful repetition contained in the title: KILL BILL, a no way-back, absolute mission.
A full and rich red, the colour of blood, fire and passion, is the third, important colour that announces the theme of the film.
For contrast, I shall now briefly consider a totally different cover, the first DVD jacket (series One) for the enormously successful TV drama series Downton Abbey.
I think that in this case the combination of all the elements speaks of reassuringly classical values, tradition, comfortable good old feelings. Everything from the layout to the colours of the image and the text seems to say to the audience: don’t worry, no surprises here, you’re going to be entertained with a classic and beautiful saga.
The arrangement is a pyramid and transmits a feeling of order and ranking: the grand country estate at the back with its turrets and in front the rigidly structured group of people, with Lord Grantham at the top centre surrounded by two symmetrically degrading wings of aristocratic members of his family and servants.
Also the colours are reassuring and mellow: the neutral blacks and grays, creams and whites of the characters, a classical blue sky above, and the warm earthy tones of ochre and muted yellow of the palace and the typography.
The serif typeface chosen is another element that again confirms stability, prestige and tradition.
Brown, Ju and Brown, John (2006) China, Japan, Korea: Culture and Customs. North Charleston: BookSurge