Hans Hillmann poster for Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959)
One of the pieces of film memorabilia in our home that I cherish the most is the Metropolis poster designed by Schulz-Neudamm, which is unequivocally included on every possible list of the best movie posters in the history of cinema. I pay great attention to film posters and I love, for example, spotting them hanging on the walls in movies (used as a way to pay homage to influencing films or filmmakers or for whatever other reason), like in the case of Vittorio de Sica’s 1948 Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) – not necessarily the Rita Hayworth poster that is center-state at the beginning of the film, but the office Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) works for, with its walls covered in movie posters.
Unfortunately, it does not happen very often these days that a current movie poster catches my eye and makes me want to watch the film – with an arresting image and pithy tag line – without my knowing absolutely nothing about it beforehand. The kind of great movie poster that adds something to the experience of the movie – accompanying it rather than simply attempting to sell it. Poster art is a medium designed to speak to the public before the film does. The window to the world or story waiting for you to discover.
Hans Hillmann posters for (left) The Fire Within (La feu follet, Louis Malle, 1963) and (right) Los olvidados (Luis Buñuel, 1950)
But I did come across one such poster last year and that was the one for The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. I was not surprised to find out that the inspiration behind it was the stark and striking work of the great German graphic artist Hans Hillmann, whose talent was immeasurable. He created more than 130 film posters in his career, including designs for landmark films such as Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket and Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds.
The number of iconic film posters that bear his name is astonishing, and Hans Hillmann’s style was as much a signature as that of the directors he often collaborated with, such as Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Cocteau and Federico Fellini.
Hans Hillmann posters for (left) Storm over Asia (Svevolod Pudovkin, 1928) and (right) Rashōmon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
photos via The Criterion Collection | Museum Folkwang/Deutsches Plakat Museum and Hans Hillmann estate