Posted by Jeff Stafford on October 10, 2009
Is this some new folk art movement? A new way of seeing film promotion reflected back at us through another culture? Some strange homage to the horror and action film genres of the eighties and beyond?
Ghanavision, published by the small German press Bongout, is all of these things and more – a sampler of various hand-painted movie posters by Ghanaian artists created specially to promote public showings of movies on VHS in villages via local video clubs or traveling cinemas which consisted of a car, a VCR, a TV and an electrical generator. It’s a bizarre, funny and astonishing melange of primeval imagery and, in many cases, a new promotional take on such lowbrow commercial fare as Commando (1985) or Return of the Living Dead (1985) or other movies made in Africa, such as the Nigerian-made BLACK BRA (2005) – see below right.
In many cases the artists who painted these posters often hadn’t seen the movies they were depicting and based their interpretations on a few film stills or a plot description. According to the book’s forward by Thibaut de Rayter, “The names of the directors were of no importance, those of the actors only when they’re superstars. What each poster needed was an image to create the desire to see the movie…the artists managed to create funny images mixing monsters, (half-) naked women and superheroes, then setting them against naively painted and distortedly proportioned African landscapes….Yet showing things that are not in the movie may be why the poster[s] work so well as packaging.” A perfect example of this is the hand-painted poster for THE GUARDIAN, William Friedkin’s 1990 killer tree movie which has little to do with the actual film.
Sometimes the artist’s name would take precedence over any actor or director on the poster such as Stephen King’s supernatural thriller SLEEPWALKERS (1992) which only bears the name of the video club where it’s playing and the name of the artist, Ziggy.
Then there’s the ubiquitous Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger pictures featuring movie action heroes who are so entrenched in the culture that their likeness is recognized everywhere in the world from South America to New Zealand to Senegal.
From my own recollection, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a movie made by Ghanaian filmmakers. I have seen movies from other countries that were filmed in Ghana such as Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde (1987) and the 1971 concert film Soul to Soul featuring Ike & Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, Santana and others. But even most of the residents of this African country haven’t seen any movies made in Ghana either because they don’t really have a film industry. Nor do they have anything that comes close to the local mall cinema. That’s why video clubs and traveling cinemas became so popular during the eighties when the VHS market became a worldwide phenomenon. So even if Ghana didn’t have a national cinema of its own, it had the last laugh by imposing its own identity on the hand-painted posters for films like DOLLY DEAREST (1991), a Child’s Play ripoff with Denise Crosby, Sam Bottoms and Rip Torn, that replaces the Caucasian cast with African actors in this version.
Below are some of my favorite Ghanaian film posters; several are featured in Ghanavision but others come from other collections or the internet, either through the generosity of other collectors or fans.
It’s been more than 32 years since I’ve seen THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) so my memory is a little vague on the plot. But I don’t think it was about a menage a trois between a spy, a femme fatale and a fish.
I like the straightforward simplicity of this version of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981).
Now here’s a uniquely revisionist version of CUJO. I never thought of the killer dog as a basset hound. Not scary but it is crazy weird.
How could any movie live up to a poster like this?
Here is another Nigerian-made feature which actually spawned a sequel that is depicted in the above poster. Anything with skeletons is always a good thing.
There are countless more film posters from Ghana out there on the web, in collectors’ private holdings and still being created for exhibition in Ghana where they are much more popular than the official film poster for obvious reasons. Wouldn’t you love to see American film distributors take this approach and start using individual artists to render their vision or version of the movie? Check out the below links:
Buy the Book GHANAVISION at Bongout http://www.xn--bongot-0ya.com/
Buy posters at
Ghana Movie Posters http://www.ghanamovieposters.com/servlet/StoreFront
See More at
Ephemera Assemblyman http://assemblyman-eph.blogspot.com/
Dutch Poster Museum http://www.affichemuseum.nl/nl/435207beabe90
Type Brighter Too http://typebrighter.tumblr.com/
Little Hokum Rag http://amycrehore.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html
Here is my all-time favorite tagline of any Ghanaian film poster: “The sexiest alien in the universe is back” Really? Which one is it?
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