Disclosure: Mondo and BMD are both owned by the Alamo Drafthouse.
Yesterday, it was our great pleasure to reveal Greg Ruth's brand-new Midsommar poster, headed your way at this year's MondoCon (Sept. 14th-15th in Austin, TX; get your badges here). Today, we're equally delighted to be revealing another MondoCon exclusive...and to give you an in-depth look at how this excellent screenprint came to be.
This is Jack Hughes' Suspiria, and what follows is his creative process. Enjoy.
NOTE: The following will contain spoilers for Suspiria.
"Firstly, I just want to say how much I loved Suspiria. After the intro scene, as Thom Yorke’s title track faded out to Suzy wandering the streets of 1970’s Berlin, I immediately began to mentally compose my email to Mondo, pleading to let me design a poster for it. The difficulty with designing a poster for a movie you love is that the pressure to do it justice is amplified, not just for yourself but for everyone else. Critics have suggested the movie is ambitious but bloated, with ample amounts of rich narrative and visual information, almost too much to process. I kept putting it off, too scared to put pen to paper out of fear of producing something lackluster, cliched, or which didn’t represent my work and emotional attachment to the movie. I lost count of the number of times I rewatched it, showing it to as many friends as I could, reveling in their reactions and discovering more and more with each subsequent viewing. I took extensive notes, researched the narrative nuances, fell down Reddit rabbit holes, listened to the soundtrack on repeat but never once got bored of the information the movie presented. It wasn’t until I read the script that I finally felt ready to start. Well, that and an email from Rob at Mondo with the subject line “Suspiria poster?” and no body copy.
I made a list of all the elements I wanted to try and include: Suzy being the main focus, Madame Blanc and Tilda Swinton’s two other roles - Helena Markos and Jozef Klemperer, the dancers, the sexuality, the gore, Berlin - specifically the Berlin wall, ‘Tanz’ the dance school with its multitude of mirrors and the magnificent costumes. I intended to wrap all of this up into a poster that felt like a homage to the era, with a healthy dose of foreboding and elegance layered throughout. I soon realized such a feat was near impossible. Attempting to shoehorn in so many facets would muddy the image and I wanted to avoid the design trope of floating heads above a landscape that befalls most modern movie posters. This quote from Swinton’s Madame Blanc really stayed with me: “There are two things that dance can never be again: beautiful and cheerful. Today, we need to break the nose of every beautiful thing.” I kept that in mind when working on my first sketches for in my usual work I have a tendency to err towards that of beauty for the sake of beauty. Suspiria is a film with great depth, so I felt I had to approach it as such.
My first sketches were obvious and simple, lacking the challenge I sought and they felt like a disservice to the movie. They also didn’t feel like my work and I recognized that I had fallen into the trap of making it more about the aesthetics than depth. However, I knew they had to be done to get them out of my system, allowing me to acknowledge their shortcomings and move on."
"I began to experiment with the format. In one piece I attempted to emulate the graphic shapes of the title by the brilliant Dan Perri (Star Wars). In another, I flipped the poster to landscape, a pastiche of 70’s horror movie posters: the era the movie is set.
It was in these two images that I introduced the sexuality and vulnerability of Suspiria’s lead, Suzy Bannion, adjusting the focus to her as the protagonist. I also repurposed Madame Blanc from the previous sketches and began to play with the relationship between her and Suzy. Blanc fills the role of tutor, manipulating and grooming Suzy like a puppeteer, for a bigger, darker purpose.
I then brought in the dancers, the women who make up the Markos Tanzgruppe, and work as the backdrop for the entire movie. It was at this point when I realized their importance in the narrative. The movie emphasizes their breaths, sighs, and murmurs as they dance. Mother Suspiriorum is the mother of sighs, after all, which serves as a subtle hint that the Mother feeds off such emotion."
"In the portrait version of this composition, I included two other important characters, not likely to be seen in many other poster iterations: Josef Klemperer and Helena Markos (albeit just her hand), both played by Tilda Swinton. The three characters all represent one aspect of Freud’s model of the psyche. Jozef represents the super-ego (morality), Blanc the ego (reality) and Markos the id (instincts). I loved this concept and would have enjoyed developing the composition more to reflect that, but felt the poster was becoming too much of a visual essay on the movie’s nuances, rather than a poster about the film as a whole.
I also adored was the use of mirrors as a recurring visual metaphor: what they show, what they conceal, what lies behind them and how they can distort reality, especially given that the Helena Markos Dance Company is a front for a coven of witches. The mirrors then become pivotal in some of the movies’ most arresting scenes: Olga’s demise - as her and Suzy’s bodies are linked, the two-way mirror through which Blanc watches Suzy, and the mirror smashing in Suzy’s dream, suggesting the facade is beginning to peel away."
"I looked for interesting ways of using mirrored effects to convey something that felt appropriate for Suspiria. Having tested splicing and distorting the dancers in previous sketches, I decided it was worth exploring further."
"Both the Volk dance and the Sabbath scene were beautifully choreographed. The Volk sequence had the dancers in red rope bondage, performing in a rigid and graceful manner. The Sabbath had the dancers naked and clumped together like a mound of flesh, the dance more guttural and animalistic. I loved the idea of merging the two, with Suzy both a part of the dance and also separated, stepping forth to fulfill the purpose the witches had orchestrated for her."
"Next, I worked on incorporating the panels from the mirrored room, remembering a similar scene from the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon."
"This was the sketch that resonated most with my friends and the team at Mondo. More importantly, it was the sketch that finally felt right for me, too. Preparing the image for screen printing was relatively simple because I had purposefully limited my color palette, drawing on the colors from the movie, something Guadagino used very intelligently to separate his vision of Suspiria to Argento’s saturated, kaleidoscopic original.
The real challenge came with the complexity of the image. I wanted the bodies to feel connected, the red rope moving seamlessly from one dancer to the next, limbs and flesh almost merging completely, making it hard to distinguish what belonged to who. I wanted to evoke both the Volk and Sabbath scenes, using the spliced mirrors to help distort the image further, conjuring a sense of illusion and magic. I referred again to Madame Blanc’s line: “There are two things that dance can never be again: beautiful and cheerful. Today, we need to break the nose of every beautiful thing.” I hope I have made her proud."
"I experimented with the variants and tried a whole slew of color combinations - even blood splatter effects - but none felt as appropriate as this one, referencing the very end of the Sabbath scene, the screen is flushed with red as the dancers dance around Suzy, newly anointed Mother Suspiriorum."
"As I finished the piece, I realized that this is my second Mondo poster based on a psychological horror about a woman’s journey through dance which uses mirrors as a metaphor!"
As mentioned above, Jack Hughes' Suspiria will be available for purchase at this year's MondoCon (also as mentioned above, you can get your MondoCon badge here). Special thanks to both Hughes and our friends at Mondo for helping us bring you this awesome deep-dive. We hope y'all enjoy these as much as we do!