Poster Roaster: Chaplin the Musical

22 Sep

The air is Autumnal, and this, to me, is delightful. Not only for the tweeds and the pumpkin-flavored everything, but also because it’s time for the new theater season, y’all! And this year, we are getting such cutting-edge pieces as this:

To be fair, I haven’t yet seen this show. So it could well be full of Robert Wilson gestures and techno-pop. But from this poster, I am guessing it most certainly is not.

First of all, let’s discuss the tagline, shall we? This has been popping up on facebook ads for quite some time now, which was the first source of my wonder. Realistically, how many of your average facebook users actually know who ‘the Little Tramp’ refers to? Let’s be honest, most people probably hear ‘The Little Tramp’ and think Snooki. And I’m not saying that we, as Americans, should be proud of this, but I am saying that if you’re marketing your musical on Facebook, you might want to go with a tagline that’s a little more ‘this is an important person in history you should be interested in’ and a little less ‘we already assume you know who we’re talking about.’

But everything about this poster already assumes you do know who they’re talking about. It also assumes that you are old enough that you probably have a significant number of years overlap with the life of the actual Charlie Chaplin. Because I I’ve looked at a lot of posters over the years, and I’ve seen many go with a retro look, but I’ve never seen one that seems so patently designed to look like it’s been hanging on the basement wall of your parents’ house since 1975. The font seems directly pulled from that era, and the simple two-color scheme and odd ‘spotlight’ effect in the center look like it might have been a simple black and white at one point and aged with some mildewing around the corners – this is the only poster in memory that I could say I know what it would smell like.

But let’s move past that for a while, and take a gander at the big main graphic. I’ll give them a pass on the fact that they have a big head of Chaplin, and then a full-body little Chaplin in their graphics; we get it, show, you’re about Charlie Chaplin, but given the aforementioned ‘Little Tramp’ issue, I don’t have a problem with driving the point home. What I do have a problem with is the big mess of stuff pouring out of poor big Chaplin’s head; it looks like he should immediately go to a doctor, or, give those wheels in there, a Steampunk costume party.

So what’s in there? We’ve got a whole lot of film, including cameras and all those film reels, which makes sense – after all, we are dealing with someone whose life is inextricably linked with the medium of film (although again, we get it, poster! We would probably get it with fewer than the seven film reels/canisters you’ve got there.) We’ve got a fancy lady with a big feather hat, who fingers crossed represents Maggie Smith in ‘Downton Abbey’, because I would go see any musical the Dowager Countess appears in, even if it isn’t about anything remotely related to Downton Abbey. We’ve got some making out, because you’ve got to have some love in there somewhere, even if I’m sure I’m not the only one who looks at that and thinks, ugh, mustache burn. And then, at the top, we’ve got a silhouetted woman and a little child.

I’m going to guess that this represents Chaplin and his mother somehow, and that she’s welcoming him in to… somewhere she would be but he would have to be welcomed into… okay, you know what, I’m going to stop trying to think about it. What I am going to say is AHHHHHH THERE ARE LITTLE PEOPLE WHO LIVE INSIDE CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S BRAIN. I mean, I’m all for metaphor, and I totally get the idea that those little side people are part of this person’s consciousness. But throw in that silhouette, and I start to worry that someone has bored a door into Charlie Chaplin’s parietal lobe – or worse, that this whole time Charlie Chaplin wore that famous bowler hat to hide the fact that under it, he had no head.

Also, between this and the ‘Bring It On’ poster, I’m beginning to wonder if there wasn’t some sort of summit of the world’s graphic designers to declare that this season, people inside of other people on posters is the thing. If so, then there’s really only one show that could feature that on their poster with completely legitimate reason. And that show is ‘The Performers’.


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