Prowling the 'Net this morning, I came across the poster for the new Steven Soderbergh film, The Good German. It stars George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire and Beau Bridges. According to the Internet Movie Database, the plot is: "In post-war Berlin to find his former mistress, an American journalist is lured into a murder mystery." And here's the poster:
This is a nice ad. Moody, atmospheric, very classic. I really like the Soderbergh-Clooney partnership and the films they've made together, as actors, directors and producers. I also like how the film is shot in black-and-white (at least, that's what the one production photo would imply), and that Clooney looks as though he's finally cashing in on his Golden Age of Hollywood look and stepping into a role that Cary Grant could have occupied. (The production still looks like it could be from a Howard Hawks film.) This movie feels golden era, and it looks like Clooney is intent on resurrecting black-and-white filmmaking (which is A-OK with me).
But I can't help but feel this is all manufactured. Worse, it feels unoriginal. That IMDB tagline reads like "The Third Man," with a mistress standing in for Harry Lime, and the poster is nice because it's a familiar image: It's a near copy of one of the posters for "Casablanca."
The Classic Hollywood Cinema era is my favorite era of filmmaking. Warner Bros., the studio that released "Casablanca" and will be releasing "The Good German," was one of the greatest studios of that era. And if any group of people can raise CHC for the dead, it's Clooney and Soderbergh and the people around them. But someone needs to take the designer that concocted the poster for "The Good German" and knock some sense into him. It's one thing to evoke and era; it's something else entirely to produce a rip off as brazen as this "The Good German" poster.
If you look at the two images side-by-side, the similarities are striking:
First, there's the hero -- Bogart on the left in a hat and suit/uniform, Clooney on the right in a hat and suit/uniform -- in profile, or near profile. Behind him is the female lead -- Bergman on the left, Blanchett on the right -- facing forward, gazing at the hero but also past him. Behind her, the cast of supporting characters are tiered based on importance. In the "Casablanca" poster, the tiering is a clockwise semi-circle from Bergman to Heinreid, up to the German officer. In the poster for "The Good German," the tiering is up to down, beginning with Maguire going down to Bridges and ending at the German officer. The font at the top of both posters is nearly identical, with the stars' first names in this flowy, cursive script and their last names in hard block lettering. Similarly, the titles are written in an askew yet flowy cursive, reading from the bottom left corner of the poster to the upper right of it. Below the titles are the rest of the credits for the films. The backgrounds are both red, the foregrounds white.
The similarities between the two are so obvious as to make "The Good German" poster more than an homage to "Casablanca." It's almost a silkscreen of it. The problem with that is that "Casablanca" is a moment in cinema that can never be duplicated, and the imagery associated with the film is so intrinsically linked with it that if someone tries to evoke "Casablanca" -- like in "The Good German" poster -- they're creating an expectation of the second coming of "Casablanca." This simply can't be the case, given that plotline listed on IMDB. (Rick doesn't go searching for Ilsa in a postwar anything, etc.)
Why do this? Why blatantly rip-off "Casablanca" when it would have been a better aesthetic and practical choice to craft a new poster in the vein of the classic Warner style? Hollywood doesn't make much sense. But what's fairly clear is that the poster for "The Good German" is going to create an expectation that Clooney and Soderbergh, despite their vast talents, might not be able to fulfill.