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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Saragossa Manuscript posters

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Polish poster (1965) by Jerzy Skarzynski who was also the film’s production designer.

I love The Saragossa Manuscript, both the novel by Potocki and the movie by Has. I saw the film three times which, in my case, is absolutely exceptional.

Luis Buñuel in My Last Sigh (1983)

No surprise that a lifelong Surrealist was enamoured with Jan Potocki’s rambling collection of stories-within-stories. The 1965 Polish film by Wojciech Has had another famous enthusiast in Jerry Garcia whose efforts to restore and reissue The Saragossa Manuscript helped bring the film to a new generation of viewers in 1999. I was a beneficiary of this, having been intrigued for years by descriptions whilst hoping in vain that it might turn up on television. I prefer the film to the novel although to be fair to Potocki it’s a long time since I read his book.

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Another Polish design showing Zbigniew Cybulski as Alphonse.

Watching The Saragossa Manuscript again this weekend sent me looking for posters, some of which can be seen below. There are odd omissions: plenty of examples from the Eastern Bloc countries but few at all from Western Europe. The film suffered by having its 3-hour running time hacked about by distributors which didn’t help its reception outside Poland. The manuscript of the title is a book discovered during a skirmish in the Napoleonic wars, an account of the strange adventures of Alphonse Van Worden in the Sierra Morena region of Spain; one of the soldiers reading the manuscript is Van Worden’s grandson, the first of many coincidental connections. Van Worden’s adventures seem macabre at first—there are more bones in the opening scenes than in many horror films—but they soon turn farcical. As a burgeoning cast of characters appears, many of whom have their own tales to tell, the mood veers into outright sex comedy, albeit with mild philosophical overtones. Some scenes aren’t very far removed from Monty Python, especially those that feature an inept band of Spanish Inquisitors.

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Background drawings from the title sequence. Yes, the score is by Penderecki, his first.

All of which means this is another film that presents a challenge for a poster designer. Most of the early examples take their cues from the opening titles whose backgrounds feature drawings with a vaguely Surrealist and occult flavour that I’m guessing are also the work of Jerzy Skarzynski.

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A Czech poster (1966) by Zdenek Kaplan. A marvellous design even if it doesn’t communicate very much about the film.

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Via eBay, a Yugoslav design from 1965 using more of the graphics from the title sequence. A shame there isn’t a larger copy available.

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A Spanish design playing up the sex angle.

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Cuba received imported films from the Eastern Bloc so this is a Cuban poster by Holbeín López from 1966. A nice owl but it doesn’t tell a would-be audience what they might be seeing.

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The reissue of the restored print in 1999 required a new poster design so Benjamin R. Dewey produced this drawing that nods to the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic artwork. Seductive pairs of women appear throughout the film’s tales. Dewey’s poster can be seen at very large size here.

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Skarzynski’s drawings are reworked in a recent Greek design.

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A Polish design from 2014 by Ryszard Kaja, although this is for a stage production not the film. I’ve included it here because it brings things full circle, and it’s also a great design for making plain the maze-like nature of the story.

The Saragossa Manuscript has been available on DVD for over a decade now, and there’s also a Blu-ray edition. DVD Beaver compares the latter with the original release which is the one I own, and whose quality palls in comparison. Time for an upgrade, I think. Some additional links:

• From 1999: Saragossa Manuscript Makes Long, Strange Trip Back to Screen
Wojciech Has: curiouser and curiouser by Nick Roddick
Jerzy Skarzynski at Cardboard Cutout Sundown

Previously on { feuilleton }
Parajanov posters
The poster art of Akiko Stehrenberger
La Belle et la Bête posters
Dr Mabuse posters
The poster art of Frank McCarthy
Repulsion posters
The poster art of Vic Fair
Petulia film posters
Lucifer Rising posters
Wild Salomés
Druillet’s vampires
Bob Peak revisited
Alice in Acidland
Salomé posters
Polish posters: Freedom on the Fence
Kaleidoscope: the switched-on thriller
The Robing of The Birds
Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009
Dallamano’s Dorian Gray
Czech film posters
The poster art of Richard Amsel
Bollywood posters
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
The poster art of Bob Peak
A premonition of Premonition
Metropolis posters
Film noir posters

 


 

Posted in {art}, {books}, {design}, {film}, {surrealism}, {theatre}.

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4 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by herr doktor bimler

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    The film suffered by having its 3-hour running time hacked about by distributors which didn’t help its reception outside Poland.

    Isn’t that much what happened to the book? Editions varying in the degree of completeness?

  2. #2 posted by John

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    Yes, I’ve read that some editions have 66 chapters which mine certainly doesn’t, it’s very short.

  3. #3 posted by Michelangelo

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    Holy cow, the Czech poster is fantastic. You should give the novel another chance, it’s superb.

  4. #4 posted by herr doktor bimler

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    Ian McLean’s translation — the 1995 Penguin edition — has all 66 chapters (days).

 


 

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