Two weeks ago, as the 57th New York Film Festival kicked off, I griped about the uninspiring quality of the posters for the films in the festival’s main slate. 50 years ago it was a very different story. The posters I have found for the 19 films in the 1969 main selection make up a dazzling collection of illustration and forward thinking graphic design, even, or especially, the type-only poster for the only studio film in the festival: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice which was the opening night film on September 16 (notably a Tuesday evening).
Of course, many of these posters might have been made months or even a year after the festival, since we’re looking back with half a century of hindsight, and many of this year’s designs will no doubt be updated, but this was also the era in which illustration was still much in use for movie posters and the Czech and Polish poster scene was at its height. Campaigns were not globally homogenized as they are today and so I often had more than one superb design for each film to choose from. There are posters from the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Argentina as well as from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. There are posters by Peter Strausfeld, Franciszek Starowieyski, Jan Mlodozeniec, Karel Vaca, and two by the great Hans Hillmann, one of which (for Peter and Paul) is among his greatest works. I especially love the unsigned U.S. one sheet for Ousmane Sembene’s Mandabi (released by the Grove Press), and even the one poster that could be accused of being “nothing more than an arresting still with the title slapped on,” as I said of most of the 2019 slate, for Marguerite Duras’ Destroy, She Said, is far from banal.
The films in the 7th New York Film Festival are a fascinating collection of die-hard masterpieces, like Eric Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s and Robert Bresson’s Une femme douce, and forgotten gems. Ten of the nineteen films are currently available on various streaming platforms in the U.S. and a couple more can be found on DVD, but films like Adalen ’31, Pierre and Paul, Duet for Cannibals (by future New York Film Festival regular attendee Susan Sontag), The Deserter and the Nomads, and One Fine Day (though it played at the Film Society’s Ermanno Olmi retrospective this summer) would be hard to track down these days.
In the introduction to the 1969 brochure, program director Richard Roud writes: “In our excitement over the old and the very new, one should not neglect the backbone of any festival, directors of the stature of Bo Widerberg, René Allio, Jaromil Jires and Agnès Varda, all quite far along the road to becoming the Old Masters of the Fourteenth New York Film Festival, and the subjects of full-dress Retrospectives (like this year’s dedicated to Jean Renoir) sometime in the future—maybe the 21st New York Film Festival?” Half a century later, Bo Widerberg, René Allio, and Jaromil Jires may no longer be cinephile household names, but Agnès Varda, though she sadly left us earlier this year at the age of 90, is the one director to have had a new film in both the 7th and the 57th editions of the festival (and indeed is having a “full-dress Retrospective” at Lincoln Center this December).
The only other directors in the current festival who could have had a film in the 7th edition are Marco Bellocchio, who had his debut film in the 3rd NYFF, four years earlier, and Martin Scorsese, whose first feature had been released just the year before and whose documentary Street Scenes would be in the NYFF the following year. Pedro Almodóvar would have turned 20 during the 1969 festival, but he was five years away from making even his first short film (and 19 years away from his NYFF debut); and Jean-Pierre Dardenne was 18 and almost a decade away from making his first documentary with his then 15-year-old brother, Luc. Bong Joon-ho, Noah Baumbach, Edward Norton and Diao Yi’nan were all born in 1969, and eleven of the 2019 NYFF directors, from the 43-year-old Albert Serra to the 28-year-old Kantemir Balagov, weren’t even born.
Of the 19 directors in the 7th festival, only three are still with us: the 88-year-old Jean-Luc Godard, who had a film in last year’s NYFF, the Hungarian director Judit Elek, who is 81 and made her last film in 2011, and the Czech director Juraj Jakubisko, who is also 81 and made his last film in 2008. Though I should also note that Frederick Wiseman, whose Monrovia, Indiana was one of the highlights of last year’s NYFF was in a sidebar of the 7th NYFF with High School).
The posters below are presented in the order in which they played in 1969. I haven’t included the revival selections, which were Joseph von Sternberg’s The Epic That Never Was, Victor Sjöström’s 1924 He Who Gets Slapped, Erich von Stroheim’s 1925 The Merry Widow, and Max Ophüls’ 1950 La ronde.