Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Furies

While I might not be quite as well-versed in Westerns as some—I know my way around the classics, (The Searchers; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence; The Wild Bunch; etc), but I get a little hazy in the mid-list—I do have a fondness for the genre, particularly the iconography of the genre. So when The Furies showed up on the Criterion schedule, I jumped at the chance to design it. And once I had the chance to watch the film, I was glad I did, since it quickly became one of my favorite films within the collection.

Since this was the first "real" Western in the Criterion Collection (unless you count Young Mr. Lincoln), we felt it was important not to downplay the genre elements. But at the same time, it's a somewhat atypical Western, very dark in tone, so we didn't want to present it as something it's not. The Furies is often referred to as a "noir western," so I decided to try to combine the visual styles of those two genres. Once I found that hook to hang the design on, it was really just a question of execution.

Landscape plays a very important role in the film, as in most Westerns, (and particularly here since the plot revolves around the family's land), so I decided pretty early on that I wanted to include some aspect of painted landscape in this design. Knowing I was going to photoshop the end result, I didn't worry too much about color and just picked out some burnt umber-esque watercolors. Here's the original, un-altered landscape paintings:

I thought I'd try painting Barbara Stanwyck as well, though I was less confident I'd be able to achieve the likeness I wanted, since I am a little out of practice in watercolor. Here's the raw image there—you can see I had some trouble with the face.

The next step, of course, was to combine those into complete covers, and tweak the colors more toward where I wanted them.

On both, if you look closely you can see that I overlayed parts of the photograph that the painting was based on over the art, to try to firm up the likeness and give a (hopefully) interesting effect. Here's a little gif animation to demonstrate:

Apart from the issues with the likeness, I think those work alright, but they didn't quite have that element of "noir" that I was aiming for. I tried another tack, incorporating the high-contrast photography I like to use for noir films. (Or, actually, I had this photo-montage idea first, I just got so into the painting while doing the landscapes that I decided to try the figure on a whim at that point.) The ranch and trees in the background are pure black & white (i.e. no grey at all), but I did have to keep a little grey in the figure to keep it recognizable. Still, I think the "noir" effect comes through, right? (And if you look closely at the figure, you might just be able to make out a hint of the painted Stanwyck underneath the photograph, which I think adds a nice hint of depth and texture to that image.)

In all of the above, the title treatment, taken from the sign in the film ("The Furies" is the name of the ranch), was pretty much a no-brainer, though there was some question over whether it might not work better if we referenced the sign itself more explicitly, as in these next comps.

It's an interesting idea, but ultimately we felt it never really worked when combined with Barbara Stanwyck, (the perspective gets weird if you stare at them for too long), and she was more important than the sign.

And then there was my favorite of the comps, referencing a great scene toward the last third of the film when T.C. (Walter Huston) takes on a wild bull (I won't spoil it for you any more than that.) This really plays up the high-contrast look to the imagery, and I think is stronger for it. This went over very well, and the final decision came down to this or the next one for the front cover. This lost out only because (a) it's nice to be able to put movie stars on the cover when we can, and Stanwyck's character is certainly the central focus of the film, so it was appropriate, and (b) we reprinted the original novel by Niven Busch to go in the DVD package, and since this didn't use any actor's likenesses, it made more sense as the book cover than any of the other designs. So, if you get this set (and you should!), this will be your book cover.

And all that's left, of course, is the final cover, basically taking the best elements of all of the above and combining them into a satisfying whole. All in all, a project I'm very proud of.

1 comment:

Ed Howard said...

Glad to see you back with some posts! I love the Furies design. I've had the set since it came out but haven't gotten around to watching the film yet (it's either than or T-Men tonight, I think). It's certainly a gorgeous package to look at, though, among my favorite Criterion designs.