Cinema Art posters
Cinema Art posters
This is a collection of posters of international films distributed in Australia between 1927 and 1932.
The distributor Cinema Art Films brought many notable foreign productions to Australia, including Metropolis (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927) and Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock, UK, 1929).
In his testimony before the 1926-28 Royal Commission into the Moving Picture Industry in Australia, Cinema Art Films manager Leslie Keast explained that his company imported foreign films because he thought Australian audiences ‘would be pleased to see depicted countries other than America’.
Despite distributing some acclaimed titles, the company struggled financially and in 1931 registered to wind up voluntarily.
On several of the lithograph posters in this collection you can spot the Cinema Art logo: a blindfolded Lady Justice in front of a map of the world, with Australia and New Zealand prominent.
The production company chose to have jazz singer Annette Hanshaw’s face dominate this poster from 1925. Hanshaw’s popularity as a radio star peaked in the 1930s but even at this stage in her career they were clearly confident that her image was the film’s main selling point. Apparently her name didn’t even need to be included on the poster, only her marketing appellation as ‘The Personality Girl’.
Unfortunately it becomes difficult to have any understanding of what the film is actually about from looking at the poster itself. Henshaw’s disembodied face, eyes averted, with a half-smile, occupies half the poster and looms over what appears to be a murder scene at the bottom.
Oddly the lead actress in the film is in fact Clara Bow, whose name doesn’t appear at all. Bow appeared in 15 films in 1925 alone and would go on to become the quintessential 1920s flapper. Bow is more famously known as the ‘It’ girl. This tag, however, only came into being following her role in the movie It, in 1927.
Matrimony is a Swedish production staring Lil Dagover, the female lead in the classic German horror film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, who also appears in many Fritz Lang and FW Murnau films. This poster was produced by the Richardson Studio. It has an impressive motion-filled design, including both the logs moving down the stream and water dripping off the film stars. The image is probably based on a still from the film itself but it doesn’t explain why the male character’s right leg is incongruously bent in an unnatural manner.
This is one of the many Cinema Art posters that features a different film title to other countries. The film’s original German title is Der Mann im Feuer, which translates to The Man in the Fire.
The poster’s composition employs sharp diagonals to emphasise the dramatic nature of the film and the main image focuses on the film’s central romance between Hellmuth (Henry Stuart) and Lore (Helga Thomas). In the top image Lore swoons in the arms of Helmeth while in the bottom image she swoons in an entirely different manner, presumably because of the smoke and heat from the fire raging in the background. The fire itself is cleverly used as a metaphor for their shared passion.
The film’s director, Erich Waschneck, later gained notoriety for directing the Nazi anti-semitic propaganda film The Rothschilds in 1940.
The laboured and rather dry title of the film belies the dramatic images on the poster. The design focuses on two perilous situations: a man being thrown off a horse after it stumbles on a trip wire and an unconscious woman being rescued from an oncoming train. Both images emphasise the thrilling nature of the film which immediately suggests subterfuge and foul play. It is a successful design.
The artist Bernie Bragg has signed this poster. Bernie Bragg was a prominent newspaper and movie advertisement illustrator. The Australian War Memorial holds some of his work, including illustrated First World War diaries.
The title of the film may be Play Safe, but the poster does not. It features a train and car hurtling toward the viewer with two men in precarious situations, one jumping between the car and train and one balancing on the car. It is this obvious contrast between title and image that immediately tells us that the film is a comedy.
The additional text, ‘The Fastest Funniest COMEDY you have ever seen’, is superfluous but does serve to emphasise the excitement and humour that audiences can expect. If nothing else, the poster compels you to find out how the filmmakers were able to stage the high-risk action sequence depicted in the poster.
This poster focuses on the film’s ‘Speed! [and] Thrills!’, and is for one of many runaway train movies of the silent era.
This poster features a relatively simple design of Toni (Jack Buchanan) dressed in a suit and top hat peeking out from behind a red panel. The top hat is an immediate signifier of the British class structure which is then undercut by Toni’s somewhat dimwitted expression. It is an effective poster because we immediately know that this film is a comedy of errors, rendering unnecessary the short synopsis of the film in small print.
Toni is a wealthy son who decides to impersonate an amateur detective. Jack Buchanan was known for playing English gentlemen, despite being Scottish. The play the film was based on was written by an Australian actor and playwright, Dion Titheradge.
This poster barely gives anything away. It focuses on the female romantic lead, Kitty Cranston (Betty Balfour), whose name appears as large as the film’s title. Her sheer dress, exposed flesh, large corsage and make-up suggest a carefree flapper of the 1920s but apart from looking demurely away from the viewer, there are few other cues to tell us the plot of the film. There isn’t even a tagline. Despite being an attractive poster, it fails to effectively ‘sell’ the film.
This UFA production (original German title: Der Heilige Berg) was controversial director and film star Leni Riefenstahl’s first starring film role. Riefenstahl is best known for directing Nazi propaganda films, including Triumph of the Will (1935) and Olympia (1938).
This poster shares some uncomfortable similarities to Nazi design with its use of red, harsh lines that almost look like lightning bolts, and its focus on an Aryan-looking Karl (Louis Trenker). The strange disembodied head of Karl floating at the top of the poster, and the three inexplicable figures at the bottom, do not signify the film’s genre. With the imagery failing to tell us what the film is about it is not surprising the poster includes a lengthy plot summary. As a whole, the poster’s design is unsuccessful in making you want to see the film it advertises.
The NFSA also holds several stills from this film in the Taussig collection. One of the three posters in the NFSA collection has been signed by artist Estelle Waterman.
Looping the Loop was a UFA production. The poster was designed by the Richardson Studio and features the two romantic leads gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, framed by a looping slide with a person falling off it, hinting at the film’s drama. The detail of the crowd is impressively drawn and the background is bright red and orange. The colours used and the focus on the romantic leads encourage the perception that the film is a light romantic comedy, whereas it is in fact a thriller.
The film’s German title, Die Todesschleife, translates to the far more sinister ‘the death loop’, making it harder to mistake the film for a comedy. The original German poster features a clown poised to throw the unconscious woman down a slide, and uses dark purple and black to create a sense of foreboding. This Australian poster is without the same dramatic cues and suffers as a result.
This is one of two clown-focused posters in the Cinema Art collection.
This is one of two clown-focused cinema posters in the Cinema Art collection. At first glance you could be excused for thinking this film is titled Grock rather than its actual title, What For? This is intentional. Grock, born Charles Adrien Wettach, was a Swiss clown, composer and musician. Wettach was once called ‘the king of clowns’ and ‘the greatest of Europe's clowns’ and was the most highly paid entertainer in the world. So it is not at all surprising his name and image dominate the poster.
Having said that, the poster provides few other clues as to what the film is about. The production company is clearly relying on Grock as the film’s main drawcard. Whether this proved an effective advertising strategy is hard to say. With its tagline, ‘Delightful foolery with exquisite pathos’, it’s certainly a poster design of its time.
The designer of this poster seems to have tried to disguise the German nature and original title of this UFA production. The German title is Das Panzergewölbe, which translates to ‘the armoured vault’. Australia appears to be the only country that used this variant on the title.
The unusual translation continues with the lead actor’s name. ‘Henry George’ is in fact Heinrich George, who also appeared in Metropolis, and this anglicisation of his name is an anomaly. This is also inconsistent with the other Cinema Art posters in the NFSA collection from the same period where credits were not anglicised.
If the bold title didn’t grab your attention sufficiently, the smaller text makes the film’s genre more explicit (including not one but three exclamation marks). The main image is, by contrast, strangely pedestrian. It seems to be a quaint evening snow scene outside a rural café. It’s hard to determine whether the red trail in the snow is blood or simply tyre marks. Either way, it can hardly be considered dramatic.
The original title of this UFA production is Die Tolle Lola which, in most countries, was directly translated to The Fabulous Lola. Australia appears to be the exception where the original title’s rhyme is maintained, but the focus is Mazie and not her fun alter ego Lola. In fact it’s an unresolved poster design. The title text is jaunty and lighthearted but the main image appears sombre and reserved. You’re left wondering if the film is a comedy or a drama.
One of the three posters in the NFSA collection has been signed by artist Estelle Waterman.
The Fate of a Flirt is a romantic comedy cutting across classes which is effectively illustrated in this playful poster design. The poster features Dorothy Revier in an intricate flapper-style dress controlling three miniature gentlemen in tuxedos and top hats like marionettes, emphasising the control she yields over them.
It is an effective and daring image at a time when society was increasingly concerned about the morals and behaviour of flappers. The title, however, suggests that the emancipated, free-spirited central character is eventually subdued. This is perhaps illustrated by the small circular frame at the bottom right which focuses on a man bringing a woman in for a kiss, a stark contrast with the woman’s influence over the other men in the main image.
The overall design has delightful art deco elements, a style that came into fashion in 1925.
This full colour lithograph promotes the UFA production The Grand Duke’s Finances (original German title: Die Finanzen des Großherzogs). This film is legendary German director FW Murnau’s only comedy film.
The poster features a tied-up Grandduke of Abacco (Harry Liedke) with a distressed Olga (Mady Christians) trying to free him. Below is a scene of three men having a conversation and one holding a gun. It’s an odd poster because the selected focus makes the film look like a drama or thriller, rather than a comedy.
The poster doesn’t credit Murnau, despite the film’s release following one of his most successful films, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (original German title: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens). However, this is not so surprising, as Nosferatu did not have a contemporary Australian release and this poster slightly predates Cinema Art’s release of another classic Murnau film, Faust.
The Richardson Studio produced this poster promoting the UFA production, Thou Shalt not Steal (original German title: Du Sollst Nicht Stehlen). The night-time setting of this poster is striking with the main image effectively illustrating the somewhat corny tagline: ‘SHE planned to steal his jewels - HE planned to steal her love’. The diagonal text of the film’s title and the raking spotlight add dramatic flourishes to a well-considered composition.
This is one of two Cinema Art posters in the NFSA’s collection featuring Lilian Harvey, both of which were produced in 1929.