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An review of the book "A Hundred Years Of Film Adverts And Film Posters In Iran"

By Kiomars Vejdani (source: ISNA)

An Iranian critic Kiomars Vejdani has written an aritcle about a book on Iranian cinema titled "A Hundred Years of Film Adverts and Film Posters in Iran" created by Massoud Mehrabi.


A Hundred Years Of Film Adverts And Film Posters In Iran

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The full text of his essay comes as following:

When I first heard of the book and its title I thought it surely must be an exaggeration. It is not possible for us to have hundred years of film advert and poster. My earliest memories of advertising and presentation of Iranian films was in the form of oil paintings on huge pieces of canvas or cut out plywood installed above the facade of cinema or somewhere nearby. As far as posters were concerned they belonged to foreign (mostly Hollywood) films. But my earliest memories of any Iranian poster cannot go further back than when I was ten or twelve. I am only 73!

I thought perhaps they brought the number of years up to the round figure of hundred to make the title more presentable.

But the first glance at the book corrected my wrong notion. At the very beginning of the book we have a copy of an advert from the year 1907 announcing the first projection of film in Iran, so a simple calculation makes it 104 years and in fact they have reduced the number of years to make it a round figure of hundred. The detailed information like this is offered from the first page of the book to the last.

The forward of the book well covers the history of film advert and poster in Iran. It describes its evolution through ages, its development from initial crude phase to a sophisticated stage with works of artistic value produced by qualified and skilled artists familiar with principles and methods of graphic design, using their talent to create innovative works.

The book also stresses the dichotomy of the field, with the mainstream commercial cinema on the one hand and the minority of artistic films on the other. The various style in each phase, with main artists and for runners in each phase being introduced.

Introduction of cinema to the public in Iran was similar in pattern to the West (but with a delay of almost a decade) The first person who introduced cinema to the public was a Russian photographer called Ivanov, nicknamed by the public as Russi Khan (Mr. Russian!). The date of his advert for screening the film was 14th October 1907. Initially the presentation of film to the public was as an object of scientific curiosity ("moving pictures") to arouse their interest. But as the novelty wore off there was need for interesting subjects (such as war between Russia and Japan, sinking of a ship, etc.) as mentioned in their adverts. In due course these subjects were replaced by stories, heralding the birth of cinema as we now know it. With the advent of star system the name of famous stars such as Rudolph Valenino was added to the adverts. But it took a long time to before the names of film makers could be added as well.

Initially the projection of films was carried out in any venue and facility available (such as photo studio, a tea house, and upper floor of a pharmacy). But in due course these were replaced by purpose built cinemas showing films of interest such as an early film about story of Christ (long before Cecil B.De Mille's King of Kings), Jean Epstein's Lion of Mogul, and Napoleon by Abel Gance (the name of neither of these two film makers are mentioned in the adverts.)

Cinemas such as "Mayak" and "Iran" were among the forerunners in this field with a prestigious carrier in showing many famous films. I personally have memories of seeing many films in these two cinemas during my childhood and early youth. But within a matter of time, as better and more luxurious cinemas emerged they lost their prominent position. Iran cinema could survive thanks to a long term contract with MGM. But Mayak got gradually degraded to showing third rate films. With the neglect of its physical condition the building progressively deteriorated until one day while showing a film its roof collapsed (reportedly no one was hurt).

The first Iranian film was Abi and Rabi made in 1931 and the first Iranian talkie was The Lor Girl made in 1933. In fact it was made abroad by Imperial Film Company in Bombei followed by some more Farsi speaking films. The posters of these films were superior to their Iranian counterpart and were the first ones to be printed in color.

The boom of film making in Iran started since late 1940's, with ever increasing number of films being shown in cinemas. But the qualities of production of these films were extremely poor. The makers of these films had no knowledge of their profession. As the result techniques of film production was poor in every department (cinematography, editing, sound recording etc.). Artistically they borrowed their material and method from theatre (often out dated ones) with exaggerated acting, and make up, and artificial set design. Some film makers originally belonging to the field of theatre were trying to bring their ideas and methods to the screen. But because of their crude film technology were not even able to do that. Some others had thought themselves the trade by watching Hollywood films as a source of inspiration and model for imitation. The best compliment to be made about a film was that "it looks like a Hollywood film" (none of were even near to that) .Some were trying to give their films a national identity. But their poor characterization could only produce two dimensional people resulting either superficial melodramas or vulgar comedies. Thematically they were hollow. I watched the first series of these with continued hopeful interest. But eventually gave up and decided not to see them anymore.

The new wave of Iranian was born around 1970's, after I had left the country. The recognition of Iranian film makers within the international scene was progressively increasing. The new films by Kiarostasmi and Makhallbaf were being shown in film festivals, often receiving awards and a chance for marketing and distribution. Their success paved the way for the next generation of film makers like Asghar Farhadi and Jaafar Panahi. Nowadays the names of these film makers are mentioned within film circles and critics with admiration and respect all over the world.

Also within the mainstream cinema in Iran a group of film makers such as Massoud Kimiai, Dariush Mehrjui, and Bahram Bayzai have emerged who are creating serious films of artistic value. But very few of these find their way to festivals and opportunity for distribution abroad. Therefore they are geared to and content with internal market.

The new Iranian cinema brought with it an evolution in the shape and format of film posters. They were created by a new generation of artists. A group of talented people,well qualified and skilled in their job. The style of their posters are in sharp contrast to the posters of commercial films, which aim at sensationalism both in content (over inclusion of film stars and action scenes), as well as in form (crammed composition and eye catching bright colors) The posters of artistic group's primarily aim at expressing the theme of the film. Their design is well balanced with careful attention to composition and choice of color.

Among forerunners of this group we should mention Morteza Momayez, Mohamad Ali Heddat. And Mohamad Ali Bateni.

I find myself particularly fond of works of Momayez which has not lost its vitality over the decades. Over the next two decades, and with an added new generation of artists the number of the group has increased to a good multitude., to name only a few among them we could mention Behzad Khorshidi, Shirine Rokni, and Arash Sadeghi.

These Iranian posters, in their visual and graphic beauty, and their abstract design are on par with the best works abroad. The only criticism the book has leveled against them is that they do not often show an Iranian national identity. From this point of view my exceptional favorites is the poster of Kiarostami's Shirine by Arash Sadeghi.

For the films aiming at festivals and distribution abroad usually there is separate poster in foreign language. In case of Nader and Simin, A Separation the book only shows the Iranian poster. However the foreign poster is well known by everyone and is seen everywhere, including the cover of the DVD. I found the comparison between these two posters interesting. The English version in its composition (by showing Nader and Simin side by side, but looking indifferent directions) tries to convey their alienation. However it is the Iranian poster which fully expresses film's the main theme and the issue of separation. The poster is divided by a horizontal band of title and credits into two halves. In both upper and lower section we see a set of three chairs. In the upper section we have the middle chair empty while Nader and Simin occupying the chairs on either side. The empty chair represents all that separates these two from each other. In the lower section their daughter occupies the middle chair with two empty chairs on either side of her, indicating her wish (and ability) to bring her parents back together. By superimposing these two sections in our mind we can have the family re- united.

Talking about Farhadi, I notice the poster of his earlier film "About Elli" which won him Silver Bear award for best director in Berlin festival. I am not aware of any distribution of this film abroad, for obviously it did enjoy the huge success of "A Separation". But ever increasing prestige of this film (it has just won the Golden Globe Award and is nominated for Oscar for best foreign film with a good chance of getting it) it would wonderful if a distributor notices this film and shows the initiative of distribution and screening of About Elli as a retrospective of a Farhadi film. I am sure the viewers in art houses everywhere will welcome an opportunity of seeing it.

The main aim of this book is to express the nature of poster and its dual role, both as an object of art in its own right, and as a mean to promote the film and express its theme, and with such a definition the book explores the contribution of posters throughout the history of Iranian cinema.

The content of this book is the result of intensive and in depth research and collecting material to present a comprehensive picture of its subject. For those without prior knowledge of the subject it is a valuable source of information, and for those who are familiar, it is a source of immense nostalgic pleasure. The book offers all this information in a true cinematic spirit with minimum amount of words and maximum amount of pictures. Because after all that is what cinema is all about.

... Payvand News - 03/04/12 ... --

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