French New Wave: A Revolution in Design

this extensive and meticulously researched collection of film posters gives a sense of their breadth and variety

À bout de souffle (1960), Peter Strausfeld © French New Wave Collection

The cinematic movement known as the French New Wave is widely held up as an innovative and eclectic time in film history. Perhaps less appreciated is the wealth of equally innovative design work which accompanied it. This poster art, just like the films it promoted, had very little in common with the already rather formulaic movie posters of Hollywood, giving creative free rein to a community of artists who did not play by the same rules. French New Wave: A Revolution in Design is an extensive collection of these posters, giving a sense of their breadth and variety, whilst also adding biographies of the artists in question. It’s an attractive, meticulously researched and referenced piece of work.

In his introduction to the book, Christopher Frayling contextualises the New Wave firstly by discussing the important links between literary pursuits and the rising French cinema of the late 50s onwards. At the time, filmmaking was always hovering somewhere between artistic vision and practical realities, though as Frayling asserts, print media always figured in New Wave cinema, with clear overlap between cinema and its critique, film being a kind of language in its own right. He goes on to discuss the practical issues for French cineastes who wished to see American films, and the locations where this tentatively became possible. These films went on to be formative influences on an important band of new directors, such as Godard and Rivette, to name just two. Their growing sense of what ‘French cinema’ actually was and could be began to take form at this time, whilst the importance of French critical journals such as Cahiers helped to entrench this new, progressive mode of thinking. This allows Frayling to discuss the idiosyncrasies of French — and more broadly, European — film poster design, which forms the bedrock of the book at hand.

After a short piece by Graham Marsh on the importance of New Wave film scores and Tony Nourmand’s description of his history as a French New Wave poster collector, the book moves onto the posters themselves. Arranged alphabetically by artist, each prefaced by a brief introduction to their lives and work, this is a stylish collection, presented in black and white, unicolour filters and full colour. Fans of these films will no doubt particularly enjoy the way the book presents notable still images from the films before displaying the derived poster art alongside; it’s interesting to see how each artist worked and used particularly revealing or engaging images as the basis for their own pieces, and this motif is used throughout.

Very much a completists’ collection, the book is finely researched and indexed fully, with a number of suggested books and journal articles for further reading. French New Wave: A Revolution in Design is an aesthetically pleasing and carefully designed work in its own right, and a fitting accompaniment for those who are interested in the culture surrounding this influential period in cinema.

French New Wave: A Revolution in Design by Tony Nourmand, Graham Marsh and Christopher Frayling is published by Reel Art Press RRP £49.95/$59. For further information and a full list of stockists visit www.reelartpress.com

Keri O'Shea
About Keri O'Shea 7 Articles
Keri can usually be found contributing to Reprobate Press, where she covers a bit of everything, or writing and editing Warped Perspective, a website which features cult film, TV, art and books.

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