When Criterion began work on an upgrade of their release of Laurence Olivier’s Richard III, art director Sarah Habibi asked me if I’d like to try my hand at creating the cover art. An old Janus Films poster for the film had reminded Sarah of a recent design of mine (for David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis), and after she showed me that original Richard poster, I knew immediately that I couldn’t top it. I was stunned by the design, and I felt strongly that we should use it for the cover. I set about designing the rest of the package and menus in a style inspired by the poster, and had a lot of fun with it. But we never knew exactly who had designed the original artwork.
Months later, Adrian Curry, in his great Movie Poster of the Week column, posted a Janus one-sheet for Jacques Demy’s 1970 film Donkey Skin that, as Adrian had discovered through a sale at Heritage Auctions, was designed by one Lee Reedy. I was blown away once again, and when I looked more closely, it seemed the style matched that of the Richard art: it had the same folky, colorful illustrations of mythic imagery and characters, a similarly beautiful custom title treatment, and a corresponding scruffy, textured style to the markings. Sure enough, when I went back and looked through every nook and cranny of the Richard art, I spied a tiny Reedy signature on the bottom right that I’d never noticed before. Reedy is now a fine artist who lives just outside of Denver and paints landscapes of the American West. I emailed him and, over the course of a friendly correspondence, he told me that, in the late sixties and the seventies, he and illustrator Robert Clayton had designed more than twenty Janus Films theatrical posters at Dot Graphics, their award-winning Denver design company.
Dot Graphics was formed in or around 1967, after Reedy and Clayton had both relocated from Ohio to Colorado and worked for various design firms. In addition to their package designs, logos, and illustrations for numerous clients, they created the gorgeous Janus Films posters seen in this gallery, as well as catalogs and promotional materials for the distributor. Hiring Dot Graphics was the idea of Bill Pence, who helped Janus partners Saul Turell and William Becker assemble the company’s legendary film library. Pence, inspired by the posters being made by the German distributor Atlas Films, felt that Janus’s releases should be similarly branded with striking, beautiful new poster designs. Before the Dot era, posters for Janus Films releases were often one-color, primarily text-based advertisements, with quotes, taglines, and stills paired with an illustration or cartoony title treatment. The Dot Graphics posters were singular, iconic, and representative of the high level of quality in design for which the sixties and seventies are now known. Reedy and Clayton were both illustrators, with Reedy usually handling typography. Their complementary individual styles, executed by hand, offered a range of approaches for any given poster assignment. Dot also had the unique challenge of designing posters for double features, as seen here in the designs for The Ladykillers/The Lavender Hill Mob and Oliver Twist/Great Expectations, and posters for larger Janus touring programs, as seen in their bacchanalian design for the Cinema Collage.
The Dot Graphics team eventually parted ways to pursue their own artistic careers, but they remain the best of friends. Here, Reedy and Clayton have shared some thoughts and memories about these designs, which constitute only a small sample of their poster work. As we enjoy these treasures from the Janus vaults, it’s evident that the love of thoughtful and iconic design for which Criterion and Janus are known today has deep roots.