Gilbey on Film: terrible taglines

Film posters don't always get it right.

The youthful cinema obsessive, denied access to your 15- and 18-rated releases (or, for the more seasoned moviegoers among us, your AAs and Xs), has no choice but to experience this forbidden fruit through the vicarious thrill of the film poster.

We come together today not to hail the sumptuous history of poster art, which surely needs no cheerleaders, but to celebrate the tagline: the pitch that takes root in your subconscious, and becomes synonymous with what it's selling.

We all have our favourites. But it's hard, surely, to think of a pitch as alluringly trashy as the one for the 1979 horror gem Phantasm: "If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead." Truly you haven't known fear, anticipation and titillation until you've been a nine-year-old child reading that warning beneath the neon marquee of the Walthamstow Granada.

But let's leave aside such hallowed texts, and touch instead on the rogue poster copy that inadvertently subverts its own purpose -- a kind of Freudian slip of the marketing department. If human beings have "tells", those unconscious mannerisms and gestures that betray our true intentions, then it's possible too that some film posters, designed to beckon us into the nearest cinema, give off coded messages that in fact implore us to run home and barricade the door using back issues of Cahiers du cinéma.

There can be no juicier current example than the tagline for the Luc Besson-scripted action film From Paris With Love.

I haven't seen the picture yet -- sorry, I don't know how that stray "yet" attached itself to the end of that statement -- but I can't imagine it would give me more pleasure than the accidentally illuminating tagline:

Two men. One city. No merci.

When a poster goes so far as to say "No thank you" to the very film it is promoting, we should probably heed the warning. Here are some of the taglines with which From Paris With Love will be spending the rest of eternity in the poster copy hall of shame.

Ryan Gilbey blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday. He is also the New Statesman's film critic.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER/MINDEN PICTURES
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Eyes on the peaks and a heart in the valley

During the summer months, the Swiss Alps offer one of nature’s most gorgeous spectacles.

Usually, whenever I arrive in Switzerland (where I am currently enjoying a brief summer respite), I cannot wait to ascend to the top of the nearest peak, whether on foot, or by some kind cable car, or a combination of the two. At this time of year, the flora seems more interesting the higher I go and, to my mind, few sights are as beautiful as a high Alpine meadow in full flower.

A possible comparison might be a desert at its most floriferous, but it is hard to predict when that occasional abundance will come. If you get to the mountains between June and late July, one of the most gorgeous spectacles in nature is close to guaranteed. Some years are better than others, but there is something about wandering an Alpine meadow, or crouching at the edge of a mountain chasm to peer down at a clutch of faintly scented mountain flowers, that renews the spirit.

The other great pleasure in being up, as opposed to down, is the view. Everyone appreciates that view, even if it is only from the visitors’ centre or the café terrace: the land laid out all around, its most intimate secrets revealed, sheep and people and houses like tiny specks on the valley slopes. The river is a ribbon of light, making its way through the lower meadows, past the cement works and the little Valais towns, each with its own shop and train station, its people polite and reserved, speaking a variety of German that most German-speakers barely understand. When people here meet, they say not “guten Tag” but “grüezi”. Goodbye is “Widerluege”. If you can remember how to pronounce it, there is a delicious, cheesecake-like dish called Chäschüechli. However, my favourite titbit of Swiss German is that, whereas Hochdeutsch has one term for walking uphill (“aufwärts gehen”), Swiss German has two: “uälaufe”, which means “to walk uphill” and “ufälaufe”, which means “to walk uphill and get to the top”. Or so my Swiss friends tell me – although, in matters of language, they do like to play games.

True or not, this is an important distinction, especially here in Valais. At the top are the Blüemlisalphorn (3,661 metres) and Weisshorn (4,506 metres) peaks, which are out of my range, but even the less demanding ones (the gorgeous Illhorn, for instance, which rises to 2,716 metres) can be a challenge for the occasional hillwalker that age, desk work and appetite have made me. It’s worth it, though, for the views and the flora. Or so I thought – but there are some who would agree to disagree.

Rainer Maria Rilke discovered the Valais region in 1919 and returned there to live a short time later. He was drawn by the beauty of the landscape, the flora, the simplicity of local life and the view of the mountains – but he rarely climbed to the top, preferring the valleys and the slopes to the peaks. A favourite place was the Forêt des Finges, on the floor of the valley. “Outside is a day of inexhaustible splendour,” he wrote to a friend in 1921. “This valley inhabited by hills – it provides ever-new twists and impulses, as if it were still the movement of creation that energised its changing aspects. We have discovered the forests – full of small lakes, blue, green, nearly black. What country delivers such detail, painted on such a large canvas? It is like the final movement of a Beethoven symphony.”

From Finges, one looks up and sees the mountains. It was looking up, rather than looking down, that seemed to give Rilke the power to renew his vision. It was here that he finally completed the Duino Elegies, among other works. His mind reached for the peaks but his home was in the valley. He asked to be buried in the village of Raron, where the church is perched on a rock above the river: a choice spot from which his soul might gaze upwards to the delectable hills.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt