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.