Movie posters: How are men depicted?
A man stands fixed and resolute, clinging to a pump-action shotgun. Both of his taut arms are adorned with globular biceps and his creased brow, clenched lips and sullied t-shirt tell us that this is one tense situation. Next to him is a dirt-ravished Dodge Charger and beside the car, two more staid-faced men survey the oncoming danger, whilst glued to their guns.
In the above Fast and Furious 5 poster, were Vin Diesel and Paul Walker the product of sexual objectification and re-touching, and if so, does this even happen that often? We’re so used to airbrushing, in all its ubiquitous glory. We’re used to the connotations it has on our collective consciousness, on our views of what is ‘beautiful’ (even if unobtainable) and in the use of it to re-enforce gender stereotypes. In December’s issue of Allure magazine, Keira Knightley bemoaned the sometimes-dubious swipe of the Photoshop wand: “They always pencil in my boobs. For King Arthur, for a poster, they gave me these really strange droopy tits. I thought, ‘well, if you’re going to make me fantasy breasts, at least make perky breasts.’” Perhaps we are used to seeing women digitally squeezed, preened and perfected, but to what extent are men subject to the same treatment in the promotion of blockbuster films?
Much of the discussion on airbrushing has centred largely on the alteration of female bodies and the effect this has on women’s psyches, yet we rarely talk about the men. After all, it would only equate that in portraying societal ideals of good looks, men’s brawn had been lovingly digitally-augmented, too, surely?
Sim Branaghan, author of British Film Posters: An Illustrated History, says that the practise of enhancing men on promotional material is no new premise: “Most male stars are sex-objects, and they’re portrayed as sex-objects. The design-technology involved has changed, but the mindset hasn’t.” He’s saying: cinema promotion is essentially sales… and sex sells – with both genders.
Of course, photo manipulation existed long before computers, where actors and actresses, pre-1990 Photoshop launch, were simply drawn or painted in a flattering light and then unfavourable qualities were scrawled out or over, per request of the star. One of the major poster illustrators between the ‘50s and ‘70s was Tom Chantrell, the mastermind behind iconic posters for The King and I; One Million Years BC; and Star Wars. “Tom always made a point of making his stars look as good as possible – which for the men meant bulging muscles, and for the women a massive cleavage.”
But what about today? Branaghan is adamant that the depiction of men and their need to embody exaggerated, stereotypical ideals on posters hasn’t really changed over the years. And perhaps he’s right, it’s just that sexiness per se (à la women), is not something that men have always needed to obtain; instead they’ve had to exemplify rather different, more ‘masculine’ characteristics.
“When we put men together, it is all about how the light catches the crags, catches their experience; they’re on a journey, they’re in a battle, they’re doing something like that,” Says Paul Mitchell, creative director at TEA. He adds sardonically: “God forbid you show that with a woman.”
TEA Creative is a design studio and consultancy which has been producing movie posters for the last 10 years, including: Love Actually; Tomb Raider; and Die Hard.
Crucially, the designer of a film poster is lead not only by the studio, but the content of the film and the personalities of the characters in it. This is perhaps why many of Tom Chantrell’s posters from the ‘60s overwhelmingly showcase women in suggestive stances and scantily clad – because they were a consequence of the sexploitation period of cinema, in which low-budget productions pandered to a sex-starved audience. Chantrell was, really, just showing the characters for how they were depicted in the film. Today, that also means portraying the boys from The Inbetweeners Movie as truthful to their characters and not as rippling Adonises.
However, Mitchell describes the number of things that are flexible: “Men are always made to look strong on a poster. That’s not necessarily that we change them, it’s their positioning, how they’re positioned in a group.” When asked if he broadens torsos and plumps-up limbs, he responded: “We’re lucky in the film industry, we don’t really need to do that. They’ve already spent six months working out in the first place. Yes, you add definition and lighting because it dramatises a poster image. There are obviously nicks and marks and if they’re distracting they will be removed… [but] there’s very few men we go about doing anything more to than that, really. I was trying to think of things where we have done it and it’s very rare.”
So, if it’s not sexual objectification that a man must endure by being on a film poster, then it’s more likely the promotion of clichéd gender traits. For men, these would be the likes of physical strength, leadership, success and heroism. “A man’s face carries a character, whereas a female’s face is often directed towards ‘the perfect’… You never, in a poster, make a man look weak, unless they are supposed to be Bleeker [in Juno]. If you are looking at men in a film poster, there is an exaggeration somewhere but it’s normally to do with a sense of purpose, of what they’re supposed to be doing – are they the saviour, the protector, the hero, the challenger, the warrior?”
Yet, whilst women are continually (and it quite often feels, increasingly) on the receiving end of airbrush tyranny, Mitchell says there’s a current trend which favours leaving man as is his, in all of his splendour, moving away from the cosmetic re-touching which may have been performed in yesteryears: “One of the earliest examples I came to as a designer was Morgan Freeman, who is a face full of character and he always used to have little pockmarks. I remember in the films of the 90s, they would get re-touched out – now, if you took them off, you would be actually altering his persona… [and on Bradley Cooper appearing on the recent Silver Linings poster] The female lead on there, Jennifer Lawrence, is quite heavily re-touched. Him? He’s kind of left to look a bit dishevelled. He’s left to be quite… tatty…” Mitchell believes that the zeitgeist now centres on men looking a bit “knocked-about” and “experienced in something.
The tipping scales have always plummeted towards women where gender, sexualisation and re-touching are concerned, but perhaps the playing field is slightly more level when it comes to the reinforcement of gender ideals – both ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ are stereotyped in mainstream media. Either way, it’s great that there may be a reversal happening in the re-touching and beautifying of men (in that body image problems aren’t fun for either sexes), but it’s a shame that that can’t happen for females, too. Mitchell said: “We’ve had a recent poster where we were dealing with older actors and actresses – well-known, some would say, national treasures. And you didn’t touch the men, hardly. You made sure the lighting worked on the poster. But you weren’t that concerned about the wrinkles, the crows feet, the shape in the face [or] if they’ve got jowls hanging down. It’s not like where with a woman, we’ve got to remove it.”Tagged in: Allure magazine, Fast and Furious 5, Keira Knightley, King Arthur, men, movie posters, photoshop, posters
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