As the 2011 iteration of Cannes rages on (Boos for Malick! A standing O for The Beaver! von Trier calls himself a Nazi!), there's been a steady drip of hints, teases, and early reveals of films hotly anticipated and otherwise. The first footage from Tin Tin (as well as the initial poster art, which I might come back to talking about) bowed yesterday, for example, and today the first poster for Walter Salles' adaptation of On the Road spread across the social networks. According to Collider, the poster originated from a LiveJournal user (these still exist in 2011?) who Twitpic'ed it from Cannes.
Now, as a rule, I tend not to get too enthusiastic about this kind of early art. Partly because it might be fake (the quality and set-up of the photo of the poster makes me suspicious of its legitimacy), partly because this will likely not reflect anything beyond an early "Hey, how you like this?" feeling out of the market.
I hope either of these are right in this case because this poster is boring and generic and disappointing. Is this an adaptation of Kerouac or Nicolas Sparks? The whole into-the-wide-blue-yonder approach to this poster is obvious and easy, and the title treatment — just about center, simplistic font — gives it a cheap paperback quality. Also bothersome is the desaturated, Hisptamatic palette. By this point, that aesthetic is so overused and devalued that to use it here screams slapdash and creatively empty.
So what should this first poster have been? Something abstract and off-kilter to connect this movie (which has many people uneasy about how it will interpret a classic piece of American literature) to its askew, Beat roots. Take a look at Kerouac's idea for what the cover of his book should've looked like. Everything is about propulsion and movement, from the angled title treatment to the way his name travels down the road/page as if it were being seen from a speeding car (not unlike the opening credits of Kiss Me Deadly). The Penguin Classics cover from a (relatively) recent edition of the book is also about propulsion, albeit in a more general (and boring) sense. Look again at the Cannes poster and everything feels static. There's a suggestion of dust being kicked up by the car on the lower right, but it looks more like a Hipstamatic-style artifact. No, nothing is moving — not the car, not the clouds. Even the road is straight, flattening everything out and further eliminating any sense of moving in space.
If it were me designing this poster (and thank God it's not — my design skills are terrible), I would strip this down to its barest essentials: the road, the title, and some hint of a release date. (I'm not sure why Walter Salles' name is on the Cannes poster; he's not exactly a household name with any kind of selling power.) I would start with an image not unlike Robert Frank's photo of a darkened road, which so caught Kerouac's attention, from his series The Americans. Then I'd place the title, etc., on the road itself, positioned a la the opening scroll of Star Wars to give it some kind of spatial existence while also giving the art itself a feeling of motion.
Like I said, I hope this first poster is just an early, tossed-off attempt to reiterate that this adaptation is really, actually, honestly happening (after decades of starts and stops). Because then that next poster will be the one that really gives us a sense of the tone and attitude of the film. But if this is actually the direction the filmmakers and producers are going, that would be a real shame.