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Sam Smith: My Criterion

by Sam Smith

Created 07/25/12

Edit List

Collected covers and packages designed for The Criterion Collection.

  • For my first cover assignment from Criterion, I was given the freedom to explore many different stylistic approaches. Criterion wanted to focus on Maria Larsson's inner journey and tie that into the film's beautiful images and photographic imagery. After exploring the symbol of a moth seen through a camera lens, I fixated on one still from the film in which Maria is seen moving deeper into her passion for photography, and thus her own identity, almost in secret. View some early concepts for this cover, as well as more thoughts on the process, here.

  • The HOUSE cover design was originally created as a poster for a screening at The Belcourt Theatre in my hometown of Nashville, and was then used by Janus Films for the 35mm theatrical release. I had some other ideas, but this extreme close-up of Blanche the witch cat, modified and drenched in a field of reddish-orange, came to mind quickly. Adapting the design for the DVD/BD cover was relatively easy; the fun part was creating the rest of the package celebrating this insane, unique film, one that has grown to mean so much to me. See some other early poster ideas, additional packaging design shots, and read the whole story of my work on HOUSE here.

  • During the development of this title-- Criterion's first by Chaplin-- I was asked to try my hand at some cover designs, with no set brief other than to create something fresh and iconic. The film's fantastic imagery was a trove of inspiration, and I wanted to pay tribute to it while undoubtedly featuring Chaplin himself on the cover. Criterion responded most strongly to a Czech-inspired abstract collage of Chaplin with mechanical gears over his eyes, playfully symbolizing a man gone mad in the modern city. I had fun with this cut-and-paste aesthetic throughout the package, some of which can be seen here in this process post. I was thrilled to be able to follow through on such an abstract idea for such a classic and already-iconic film, and as a result this is one of my personal favorite designs.

  • It doesn't get more humbling than to be asked to create new artwork for Andrei Tarkovsky's classic science-fiction opus SOLARIS. So many great SOLARIS designs have come before, and I looked to them all for inspiration. Criterion wanted to re-brand the film as an alluring thing of beauty as opposed to something cold and sterile. I played a lot with Tarkovsky's images of nature, embracing the film's natural color palette, and with more abstract circular representations of the planet and its pull. I loved the idea of featuring Hari, the wife of protagonist Kris, rather than Kris himself as had been done in so many other designs, as the themes of the film revolve around our haunting memories of loved ones lost. More designs from the process are here.

  • Around the same time that I was working on SOLARIS, I was shifting gears to Jonathan Demme's romantic 80's noir SOMETHING WILD. For this cover Criterion suggested I come up with an image that didn't feature either of the leads, but rather some symbol or icon from the film. My cut-out graphic of a heart chained in a pair of loose handcuffs seemed like it could work in the same way as a paperback cover of a classic thriller, suggesting something pulpy, sexy and dark. Read more about the process here.

  • I designed the theatrical poster for CARLOS for IFC in the Fall of 2010, and when it came time for the Criterion release I was asked to join them and director Assayas in revisiting the design. The poster had an intentional throwback look, and was designed to specifically reference the tagline, border, and lower-section you often see in 70's film posters where the film's title and billing sat separately under an iconic duo-tone image. It was necessary to abandon that layout for this release due to the inherent differences in the mediums. Criterion also suggested scaling back the bold color fields of the poster and bringing in more of the image's original tones.

  • Of the films I've discovered through my design assignments, KURONEKO is a personal favorite. This cover design, a collaboration with Eric Skillman, was born out of the theatrical poster I designed for Janus Films. Eric had the great idea to simplify the design for the Criterion cover and print the ghost mother in metallic ink, disappearing when viewed at a slight angle. I particularly enjoyed designing the menus and booklet for this title, where I could feature some of Shindo's beautiful compositions from this masterful erotic ghost story.

  • The WORLD ON A WIRE cover was another design that began as a Janus Films one-sheet. I was given some freedom to play around and create something eye-catching for what was to be the sci-fi art film event of the year. I went through several different design concepts (all of which can be seen in this process post) but only arrived at the final design when asked to forgo any obligation to feature the film's protagonist and create something simple and graphic--a rare and precious request from a studio. The brilliant original title treatment stayed, converted into English for our purposes. For the DVD and BD the cover was ready to go and I was happy to build the rest of the package around the poster design.

  • Adapting the original poster design by the late and legendary ad-man Stephen Frankfurt (or was it Robert Gips? Start researching and speculate away) was an easy job but an important one. I consider it one of the all-time greatest poster designs, and it's been treated haphazardly in previous editions. I had to honor that beautiful late-60's white frame and figure out how to place the type in a way that kept in spirit with the original poster design. For the rest, I wanted to create a package that might feel like something that Frankfurt & Co. would have made at the time.

  • My Criterion cover assignments have been a series of dreams-come-true, from films I discovered through Janus and Criterion (like HOUSE) to classics that shaped my love for film (like SOLARIS). But I've always KOYAANISQATSI was the ultimate dream project-- a film that I've always considered one of the most important to me personally, and one of the most accomplished aesthetically. Reggio's trilogy now comes to DVD and BD, and I was fortunate enough to end up on the title. I look forward to sharing my process that led to these cover designs-- which began as a full-on pitch and ended with a quite different look-- in an upcoming blog post at samsmyth.blogspot.com.

4 comments

  • By Sam Smith
    November 26, 2012
    01:59 AM

    My Criterion cover assignments have been a series of dreams-come-true, from films I discovered thanks to Janus and Criterion like HOUSE to classics that shaped my love for film like SOLARIS. But in a way, I've always considered KOYAANISQATSI to be the ultimate dream project-- a film that I've always considered one of the most important to me personally, and one of the most accomplished aesthetically. Reggio's trilogy now comes to DVD and BD, and I was fortunate enough to end up on the title. I look forward to sharing my process that led to these cover designs-- which began as a full-on pitch and ended with a quite different look-- in an upcoming blog post at samsmyth.blogspot.com</>.
    Reply
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  • By Matthew G
    August 25, 2013
    07:43 PM

    Thank you so much for your wonderful (and often at this point iconic) work on so many Criterion titles. One of the first ways I discovered Criterion was through the distinctive packaging I'd pass on the shelves, and although you hadn't yet come on board, I'm sure the work you've done has inspired countless budding cinephiles to pick up these great titles and check them out. I hope to see a great deal more of your work in the years to come!
    Reply
  • By HUSKY
    January 10, 2014
    03:30 AM

    The art for modern Times is a personal favorite of mine. Thank you for all the hard work. :)
    Reply
  • By Jack_D_Ripper
    March 31, 2014
    11:54 AM

    You do nice work. Keep it up.
    Reply

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