Mods Go to the Movies

July 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Poster for film program at Anthology Film Archives. Art director: Rachael Guma.

Here’s a promotional poster I designed for an upcoming program of music-oriented films from the 1960s that my wife put together for Anthology Film Archives here in New York.

The title of the program (and of this post) refers to a certain subcultural youth group that emerged in England sometime in the late ’50s, but somehow managed to avoid mainstream attention until its peak in the early ’60s. Mods—which is short for modernists—were obsessed with music (specifically, American jazz, soul, and rhythm & blues), clothes (form-fitting, sharply tailored suits were preferred by the gents; while minimally patterned, angular dresses were the norm for the ladies), and clubbing (dancing the night away to obscure records or to a live band in a busy dark cellar was at the core of the modernist lifestyle). In the ’60s, mods were instrumental in shaping the youth rebellion of their day, disseminating pop music into mainstream consciousness, and paving a path for other music-centered youth cults to come. They also helped give birth to social and cultural attitudes that are prevalent to this day. And surely enough, mod (or mod-influenced) bands also found their way into the movies of their day, which brings us back to this film program.

Those close to Rachael (my wife, who happens to be an accomplished experimental filmmaker and film instructor) and myself are aware of our weakness  for most things British and for 1960s music, art, and film. Rachael works for Anthology Film Archives—established in 1970 as a non-profit movie theater and archive dedicated to the preservation and propagation of avant-garde, classic, and independent films—and this is the first program she’s curated for them. She, along with the good folks at Anthology, needed a poster to promote the screenings. Hence, I once again found myself in the enviable position of being art directed by my own wife (and I say “once again” because this is indeed the second time I’ve had the pleasure of working for her on a poster).

Right off the bat, I knew I wanted to discard all the clichéd iconography commonly associated with mods—target signs, arrows, army parkas, etc. (A Vespa, the vehicle of choice for mods, was too good to ignore; plus, I had never drawn one before). I also decided I wanted to make some sort of visual reference to New York. (Despite my otherwise rampant signs of anglophilia, it was worth keeping in mind that—British youth movements aside—this screening would be taking place here in the Big Apple). Then I remembered the often-quoted remark by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones regarding London at the height of the Swinging Sixties: that era, according to Keith, was the moment when everything turned from black & white into glorious color. That quote triggered the idea that would become the poster you see above.

Originally, the image was conceived in silvery grey tones with only dabs of yellow or other colors, but it looked a bit too quaint and flat while I worked on it on Photoshop, so the muted blue-ish atmospherics were brought in to make things pop more. All the elements were drawn with brush & ink on paper, then scanned in to be tweaked, colored, and composed digitally. The clouds/skies were rendered with black waxed crayon on lightly textured paper, then heavily layered, blended, and tinted on the Mac. The background skyline was modelled after the current one in New York, although it seems to have ended up looking somewhat generic, despite having used reference material (oh well…). Below are some of the original drawings used in the finished poster, pre-pixel gadgetry.

mods 3

mods 2

mods 1

In the end, everyone involved was satisfied with the results, art director wife included. Rachael made some useful suggestions regarding the layout, and requested only that I make the screen-shaped hole on the clouds larger—which I complied with, since I agreed it was much too small in the early stages.

Anthology has even printed some beautiful promotional postcards from the poster; you’re likely to bump into them if you’re in town visiting some choice coffee houses, shops, and independent movie theaters in the downtown area. The entire screening schedule for the program (which features some infrequently screened gems and other rarities) can be found on the Anthology Film Archives website here.

(Update, August 2nd: Just a few days ago, The New York Times did a little write up about the program both in print and online! Check it out by clicking here.)

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