Comedies, tragedies, satires, and romance: whatever the medium, film has the distinct ability to trigger new insights and understanding about ourselves and even the world at large. These films in our upcoming auction hold a particular historical power—they reveal and grapple with issues of colonialism, sexuality, and burgeoning technology. And equally so, the posters that promote them uncover the underbelly of our cultural history. From little known silent films to the great King Kong, they’re eye-opening designs to say the least.
37 1/4 x 56 in./94.7 x 142.2 cm
“Battle of the Titans” is a silent film that centers on twin brothers (both played by Erich Kaiser-Titz) who hold opposing moral views. The good brother is a researcher and food biologist who has developed nutritional pills that he believes will solve world hunger. But his evil counterpart would rather sell out and cash out on the invention, which leads to the film’s titular battle. The title also takes a cue from the ancient Greek myth, “Battle of the Titans,” in which familial efforts to claim power result in the Olympic brothers defeating the Titans and sharing the dominions of sky, sea, and the underworld. In Zajac’s tenderly drawn interpretation, the brothers are rendered as a man and his adversarial beast—the snake, representing good and evil—in a cyclical battle of the egos.
37 3/8 x 56 in./95 x 142 cm
In post-World War I Germany, concerns about sexual needs and dangers captivated many—particularly, Jewish practitioners inspired by the new Sexualwissenschaft, or sexology. The German army realized the opportunity for propaganda and educative films to share medical facts, but more importantly, alert soldiers and their families to the dangers of sexual disease. And so, in 1916 the aptly named German Society for Combating Venereal Disease commissioned Richard Oswald to direct the film “Es werde Licht!” (“Let There Be Light!”)—which we believe to be the first ever sex-ed film. Two sequels followed, and Ludwig Kainer was asked to design this poster for part two—it’s a bit more titillating than the film’s content, but worked to draw in curious viewers. It’s also interesting to note the complex history regarding this poster and its maker: first, this was part of the Hans Sachs collection, which was the largest poster collection in Germany until its seizure during Kristallnacht in 1938. To boot, Kainer had his own extensive collection of works by famous artists, which was also seized during World War II. After Christie’s auctioned an $11 million Degas painting attributed to the Kainer heirs in 2009, the jig was up: Swiss bank officials had secretly created a foundation to manage and sell these works without ever notifying the family of their dealings—or even of the collection’s existence. After many legal battles, the family has finally secured the inheritance of Ludwig Kainer.
28 3/8 x 42 1/4 in./72 x 107.2 cm
The Stenberg Brothers’ riveting Constructivist photomontage illustrates “Turbine No. 3,” a film within the classic Soviet trope of industrial drama. Inspired by the Socialist Realist novel “Cement” by Fyodor Gladkov (see the Sternberg Bros.’ “Thirty Days,” PAI-LXXVI, 77), directors Belyaev and Moskvin valorize Soviet builders in a crisis. They’ve got to save an uncompleted hydroelectric station from a glacier. Just when the crisis appears to be over, an engineer, bedridden in hospital, is studying the plant’s blueprints and finds a catastrophic fault in Turbine No. 3. He leaps from his sickbed and rushes to the industrial site to prevent a terrible tragedy. Inset photos include shots of workers donning protective gear, the long march out to the site, and a sailor kissing his beloved goodbye.
36 1/2 x 72 1/8 in./92.7 x 183.2 cm
You can already see, in this riveting two-sheet poster, why the Danish actress Asta Nielsen was the first international star of silent film: the large dark eyes, a haunted face, her boyish figure. She often portrayed headstrong, passionate women trapped by tragic circumstances, but transformed this melodramatic trope with naturalism and overt eroticism—which lead her films to be heavily censored in the U.S. “Dirnentragodie,” or “Tragedy of the Street,” was Nielsen’s final silent role. The film epitomizes the Weimar movement called The New Objectivity, which tried to create a middle ground between Brechtian alienation and Expressionist emotionalism by forcing middle-class characters into the oppressive social circumstances of the street. “Dirnentragodie” features Nielsen as an aging prostitute who takes in a young man running away from his middle-class family. She fantasizes about a different future; the man returns to his family; she’s accused of murdering her pimp. This 1927 Fenneker design was used for the release of the film in Vienna.
49 3/8 x 73 7/8 in./125.5 x 187.6 cm
By the looks of this festive design, “Eine Tolle Nacht”—or “A Great Night”—is to be had by all. In the German silent film, Henry Bender plays Florian Pieper, an insect repellant manufacturer who believes he can conquer the German market. Invigorated, he sets off for Berlin—and is immediately overwhelmed by the city’s frenzy. But he meets a variety dancer named Margot Olschinsky who guides him through a rambunctious night full of adventures. Though he’s enchanted, Pieper is married, and determined to maintain his commitment. In the morning, another surprise awaits him: his wife, who couldn’t wait to join him in Berlin. This two-sheet poster is the Austrian promotion for the film.
27 x 40 3/4 in./88.6 x 103.5 cm
This legendary promotion for “Tobor the Great” is known as one of the three great “robot carrying a woman” posters—a somewhat niche mid-century genre that includes “Forbidden Planet” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Tobor (which is ‘Robot’ spelled backwards) was created by Dr. Ralph Harrison, who worried that space flight was becoming too dangerous, and wanted a robot to fly the spacecrafts instead. In order to fill the position, he was given some human capabilities: the ability to “feel” emotions and react via a telepathic device built into his brain. Of course, trouble ensues as foreign agents and military officials get involved—but we wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you.
31 1/4 x 44 1/4 in./79.3 x 112.5 cm
This may be the only known copy of this fantastic French promotion for “King Kong.” Like most other designs for the film, we’re presented with a formidable ape who stomps through Manhattan with the object of his affection clenched in his fist. But here, Kong is a bit more benign than we usually see him: he gazes upon Ann Darrow almost lovingly, and there is no actual sign of destruction—and certainly, no terrifying brute who can crush an airplane in mid-flight with his free hand. Although unsigned, it is most probably the work of Marcel Bloch, who designed all the posters for Pathé film reissues in the 1930s and 1940s. Rare!!
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Sunday, June 23 at 11am EDT
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