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My Own Movie Poster Design of Werner Herzog’s BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL

Written by Christopher Beaubien • November 07, 2009 • Start the Discussion!

Two weeks ago, Chicago-based film reviewer codenamed Quint (real name: Jim Fyfe) from Ain’t It Cool News challenged graphic designers and film fanatics alike to participate in a contest: Make An Insane Movie Poster of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Quint being a great admirer of the new Werner Herzog film from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – not to mention Jaws (1975)! – has had mixed feelings toward what its distributors First Look Studios and Polsky Films have done in the way of movie posters. First, they made an edgy poster that the MPAA threw its gavel down hard on for showing its title character pointing a gun at someone. Harvey Keitel, the original 1992 Bad Lieutenant from the 1992 Abel Ferrara film, amongst thousands of other trigger-itchy characters can point their gun at us gazers, but according to the MPAA we can’t handle anyone inside the poster being promised some bullets. Finally, First Look settled on a poster that looks like your generic rogue cop-seeks-killer thriller complete with two famous giant heads suspended over a landscape of dread and action.

Just like these ones!

The Official Poster from First Look Studios:

Nneyyeh! It’s not baaaad… This poster just doesn’t convey the baadasssss quality of a movie made by Herzog and Cage, those lovable madcaps. What we need is an advertisement that looks gritty and dangerous with a dirty 70s vibe to it.

Like this!

The Naughty Poster! Never to be seen again!

CAAAGGGE! NOOOooooooo! What are you DOING? Are you crazy? Point that gun at me! Not at someone you’re actually with! I can’t cope seeing this unless I’m in a movie theatre and you THREE are actually MOVING! What did Irma P. Hall ever do to you! Point the gun at ME! Just don’t shoot–

With the blessings of First Look Studios along with the original source art, I jumped at the chance to make my own dark and crazed movie poster for a very bad lieutenant. Before starting I would have loved to have seen the entire film, but the Vancouver theatrical release is on November 20th and the poster is due on the 9th. So my only point of reference now is the film’s trailer.


My approach to the poster sans movie reminds me a little of what Ken Hartford chose to do according to Roger Ebert in his 1987 book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook. Mr. Hartford, a cheerfully corrupt salesman of cheap exploitation movies like Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988), made his business by producing eye-catching promotional posters and video covers without ever seeing the actual movies. He’d boast, “I sell movies by the pound!” Ebert described finding him in “…the Marché du Film, the marketplace… down at the very bottommost level, there are the nameless videos that are retailed from small booths in the basement of the Palais…” Like a vampire hiding from daylight, that is where you’ll find the most prosperous of Grindhouse movie-pushers.

Having watched the trailer, I had some ideas of what makes the Bad Lieutenant tick. What are the three things on this man’s mind? His back pain. Oh, that searing wear up and down his spin has got to be KILLING him! Which brings us to drugs. Hard drugs! Anything to stop the pain! Finally, those goddamn iguanas! Nobody but him can see them… But they’re there! They’re crawling all over the place! Just look! Where’s the gun!

The back pain is key. I decided on a X-ray layout. The spine was my focus. In fact, I often thought of the human spine as resembling the bone-makings of a snake — a reptilian tail. Well, we did descend from reptiles! Our bone structure has just evolved to cage itself with ribs. They must have been very insecure primordial descendants to want to imprison themselves safely. And by placing the skull of one of those friggin’ iguana heads on top of the spine, it looks like the creepy crawlie is slithering out of what was once human.

Two down, one to go. Cocaine! This wreck of a man needs it and more of it. He’ll die without it. He’ll die anyway. Quicker in fact! But it’s the only way to keep this killer and rapist functioning. Like feeding a fish, only by the nostrils. I had to turn this mad experiment of bone into a structure of white powder.

You didn’t ask, but here are some songs on the substance:

Cocaine by JJ Cale
Cocaine by Jackson Browne
Draggin’ The Line by Tommy James & The Shondells
Junkhead by Alice in Chains
Snowblind by Black Sabbath
White Lines by Grandmaster Flash
Powder by Yellowcard
What a Waster by The Libertines
Feel Good Hit of the Summer by Queens of the Stone Age
Morning Glory by Oasis
Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac
This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m on This Song
by System of a Down
Twist of Cain by Danzig
Night of the Living Baseheads by Public Enemy
Master of Puppets by Metallica
Save Me by Shinedown

None of the images supplied by the good folks at First Look Studio are of much use to me. I need me a particular face – a look on Nicolas Cage. Luckily I found just the right one at the celebrity entertainment site Just had to superimpose Cage’s anguished, exhausted face over the x-ray slide and make some of that delicious cocaine whiff up his nose. Now there’s a happy Bad Lieutenant!

Now my poster has been sent over to Quint with the header “His Soul’s Still Dancing” and my fingers are crossed! The contest and its prizes are not open to those living outside the US. Oh, well! It was fun designing the poster. It has kept my white-knuckled anticipation for Werner Herzog’s latest film to reach my movie theaters at bay. Seeing it next week will be reward enough.

Still, I would have loved to have won a Lena Herzog photography book signed by the man Werner Herzog.

No matter what anybody else does, this foreign import poster of director Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant (1992) is one that is hard to beat. So is the movie – it’s a brutal masterpiece. I wonder if Nicolas Cage will be in a scene similar to what Keitel did. I know Cage and Herzog are crazy enough to do it.

BAD LIEUTENANT (1992) Trailer


How could I resist?

UPDATE: November 21, 2009

The time has come. The contestants have been tallied, fondled, and judged. And the winners are… I wasn’t amongst them. Check them out for yourselves.

Here is a collection of my favourites from the finalists:

Congratulations to those who were selected!

Why didn’t anybody else think of using the tagline “Don’t Forget Your Lucky Crack Pipe!”? It’s much better than “The Only Criminal He Can’t Catch Is Himself.” Technically, it looks like the corrupt cop already has. He just can’t let himself go.

The main font used on the poster is appropriately called Dirty Ego. The color is that of dried blood – something a Bad Lieutenant has to live with on a daily basis.

UPDATE: November 22, 2009

I just saw the film and thought it was awesome. I noticed over the main title sequence that the title of the movie was indeed “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”. I’m glad to feel so validated for using the “the” when it wasn’t required. Works much better as an introduction.

I don’t care what anyone else says, I love that whole “Port of Call New Orleans” bit.

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