Friday, September 28, 2007

The Lady Vanishes

Has it really been a full month since I last posted anything here? Wow. Sorry about that. I figure I'd better get something new up here, though, since Peter's just informed me he's going to add a link to this thing on the Criterion blog. So here's some thoughts on a newer Criterion release. (Actually, I don't think this is in stores yet, but the cover's been up on the (newly redesigned) website for awhile so I figure it's fair game.)

The Lady Vanishes is actually one of my favorite films in the Criterion Collection—I saw it for the first time at the Janus Films 50th Anniversary screening last year, and was thoroughly entertained—so I was very happy to have the opportunity to give it the look that I felt it deserved.

In a somewhat unusual situation for me, I had a vague image of the typography in my head before I had any idea what to do with the rest of the cover. A couple of false starts later, I had a treatment I liked (the far right below):

The type has no real justification other than a vague period-appropriateness and my great affinity for Chris Ware (in the 3D shadowing), but it really seems to work for whatever reason. Never underestimate gut instinct in design, I say.

So with the type in place (as far as I was concerned), I turned to the images. Initially, I had the idea that the design for this film should be somehow "tricky." Since the film is very "now you see it, now you don't," I thought there might be something along the lines of a clever optical illusion that might work—something like that image of the two faces staring at each other that's also a picture of a vase? Or maybe a silhouette of a "lady" poking out from behind one of the ascenders of the title treatment, concealed in an obviously impossible way like a cartoon character behind a very small tree?

But I couldn't really think of anything clever that didn't feel too clever, if you know what I mean, so I stepped back a bit. I looked through the available artwork again, and stumbled across this poster:

Which, all things considered, is not anything I'd call a design masterpiece, to say the least. But buried underneath the haphazard film stills is a really pretty fantastic illustration of the train from the film. So, in what some might consider pilfering but I choose to think of as a heroic act of salvage, I pulled the train out of the old poster and combined it with my new type treatment. Like so:

And I have to say, I really like it! The train's just got a perfect style for the film, capturing the vibe of high adventure without being anything too serious. And the colors are gorgeous!

I can't recall if it was producer Curtis Tsui or Art Director Sarah Habibi who had the idea to put the musical notes (representing an important plot point in the film) into the smoke of the train, but that, along with the "vanishing" letters, adds just the right amount of cleverness to tie the whole thing together.

However, there was some concern that maybe the train alone wasn't quite enough, that maybe some more literal connection to the film, and the main character played by Margaret Lockwood specifically, would be needed? We considered hiring an illustrator to try to paint a new figure in the deco-ish style of the train, to be merged together, but that kind of mix and match made me nervous, so, I tried incorporating photos (that new title treatment is taken from another old poster):

...silhouettes (this was just a rough, it would have been significantly redrawn):

...and finally painted images from other posters:

...before eventually settling here:

As you can see, this version was the closest to the original composition, with the added advantage of justifying that trapped space in the upper right corner with the subtle but effective addition of Margaret Lockwood. It's on the verge of turning into a Hollywood "triple-big-head," but I think it narrowly avoids that and is actually pretty successful.

If I do say so myself.