If you can remember these posters ...

A film poster aims to distil the essence of a movie narrative, to capture its atmosphere, not tell the story itself, and to whet the appetite for pleasures to come. No one could have made posters more appropriate to Cocteau's poesie de cinema (as he called his works on celluloid) than Cocteau himself: the drawings are his final signature on the film; and some other classic examples, such as the memorably spare graphics of Saul Bass's poster for West Side Story, seem to be equally part of the movies that they advertised. But posters belong to the medium of graphic art, and, with time, may tell us less about the works they advertise than about the graphic conventions of their year and place. One can be oddly taken aback by an advertisment for a familiar film that seems to relocate it to, say, Poland or Japan. On the other hand, contemporary posters for the British kitchen-sink films of the 1960s are as saturated with the spirit of that decade as the films themselves: those above, including the poster for Poor Cow (which is showing on Channel 4 this Tuesday evening), come from an exhibition of "Film Posters of the Sixties" opening in London later this month. Humour, menace, drama, anxiety, tenderness - it's all here; the Sixties was also an exciting and experimental period in the graphic arts. And if the graphic image, often the star's face, seems to be the dominant element, one should not overlook the importance of the words - typography being an inescapable constituent of the film poster, often as evocative as the pictures beside it. Robin Buss

"Film Posters from the Sixties" opens at the Reel Poster Gallery, 22 Great Marlborough Street, London W1 (0171 734 4303), on 22 September. A lavishly illustrated book under the same title, edited by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh (Aurum Press pounds 14.95), is being published to accompany the exhibition.

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