Spike Jonze’s Her was one of my favorite films of 2013, and this month in Frames, I’m stretching the film year out just a little longer. (At least until Oscar tells us it’s over.) Jonze’s film, aesthetically beautiful in its own right, hangs on an interesting premise—a sensitive romantic falls in love with his personal operating system as he’s getting divorced from his ex-wife—and it evoked in me this idea for a poster, among many other ideas and emotions. My main visual inspiration for this design goes back to Polish artist Waldemar Swierzy, and his 1966 poster for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Designers rarely remake their own posters, but in this case, Swierzy did (does that make him the Michael Haneke of poster artists?), exploring the same visual idea with a different execution 30 years later.
Swierzy, as I mentioned in a previous Frames column, was fixated on the abstraction of the human face and head for most of his career. I particularly love his first Blow-Up design for the colors and the way the dots connect and form patterns, making it hard for viewers to know what they’re looking at. (The second poster, though zoomed in more closely on the face, more obviously resembles a woman.) The influence of this poster extends to the smaller details as well, like Swierzy’s type placement, centered and anchored directly to the bottom of the frame, and the border, which I’m realizing I’m fond of using myself. I named this poster my No. 2 of all time in Adrian Curry’s Movie Poster of the Week column, and Adrian also wrote two great posts on Swierzy’s early and late work. Swierzy passed away in November, and he’ll be forever remembered as one of the world’s greatest poster designers.
The idea of abstracting a face through a specific geometric pattern was a perfect way to explore my idea for Her. Swierzy’s Blow-Up designs directly refer to the photographic and print processes, as the film and its title suggest. For Her, I thought I could use another pattern as a symbol of a digital atmosphere—a virtual cloud through which the protagonist Theodore fantasizes. In one sense, this image of a woman could represent Samantha, the operating system Theodore falls in love with, even though she doesn’t possess a human face. Her blurry likeness, filtered through a pixelated veneer, could be Samantha as Theodore—or any one of us—imagines her.
But I also hoped this image could have a double meaning, just as Her is a story about Theodore’s relationships with both Samantha and his ex. Theodore’s memories of Catherine are shown to us in vivid, fleeting flashbacks. They are clear as day in that instant, but in a greater sense, she’s fading from the presence she once occupied. My original intention was to actually use a photo of Rooney Mara’s Catherine as a starting point, complicating the dual identity of this imaginary figure even more. After all, it’s in the meaning Samantha gives to Theodore’s Catherine, and Catherine gives to Theodore’s Samantha, that Her really gets overwhelmingly thought-provoking. I ended up using a source image that was more decidedly ambiguous, so the design could offer its own interpretation of the film and its ideas, free from direct associations with the characters. I also thought it would be interesting for a Her poster to show “Her,” while most of the Her posters out there focus lovingly on “Him.” While I’m on the topic, designer Akiko Stehrenberger tried one of each in these beautiful designs:
In each of these columns, it’s nice to create a design without the constrictions of studios or marketing departments, saying this or that person has to appear front and center. With Her, a movie that means a lot to me, and that has so much potential to explore on the topic of memory and identity, it was particularly enjoyable to explore a more graphic approach. Whether that produces a “marketable” or “successful” result isn’t up for me to decide, nor may it be determined easily, if at all. But in writing Frames columns, and through the pleasurable dialogue with Dissolve readers here, I’ve found a comforting shift toward a deeper acceptance of my own personal style. And what a better way to find it it than through reflecting on the movies that touch us along our journey, and the ideas and inspiration they bring us.
Sam Smith is a musician and graphic artist from Nashville, Tennessee. He has designed theatrical posters for clients including Janus Films and IFCFilms, limited-edition screenprints for the Belcourt Theatre,and numerous package designs for The Criterion Collection.