Romantic Video-DVD Covers & Movie Posters:
They Use People, Don't They?

July 24, 1999

I've heard from many authors who have told me that their romance writing careers are advancing because they are now getting flowers or settings, such as towns or beaches, on their covers. Their editors and publishers tell them that getting rid of the people is a sign of progress, a move towards a mainstream audience. I assume we are still talking about a mainstream audience of women though because I don't know too many men who carry around fiction books with flowers on the front. Nor will you see too many of them reading books with restful beach or town scenes on the covers.

I would be more enamored of this sales job if readers weren't at the same time writing to me to complain about the loss of people on covers. Readers maintain that getting rid of the clinch cover, which shows the characters in a torrid embrace with their clothes halfway off, could be easily replaced by showing people in other poses. I believe they are correct and this column is going to explore other ways of depicting heroes and heroines without resorting to the clinch cover.

A reader, Nina Davis of Champaign, Illinois, helped focus me on this issue by writing to me with the explanation of the origin of the clinch cover, saying, "Women on covers, especially clinch, weren't originally designed with any reader in mind. This goes back to the day publishers tried to figure out a way to get the overwhelming male majority of book store buyers (i.e., pros who acquire books (stock) for stores to sell) to pick up romance novels, let alone consider buying them. The result? The half-clad female. I don't know if the primary need is still there today with the market-share romance has, but the tradition continues."

The question boils down to whether an image of the characters can be shown on a cover which is both artistic and visually arresting while eliminating the clinch. The romance genre is in luck because the film industry has been using other poses since its inception. One motivating factor was that the film industry has never promoted its romantic feature films as inferior to its other films. Thus, sleazy images of people were never thought of as cover material. Likewise, the reviewers of films have never left romantic films out of their coverage. The New York Times covers almost all of these films, as did Siskel & Ebert; Ebert continues to cover them. Of course, it didn't hurt that the film industry employs the best image-people of any business and typically uses a still photographer during an entire shoot so it has enough promotional photographs, although cover images are usually specially posed and photographed. Best of all, film covers are photographed with actors instead of models. While many models may have acting ability, they are hired for their physical attributes whereas actors are hired because of their ability to express emotions within their roles. True, they may also have physical beauty, but most actors are not "model-beautiful."

Romance novels are about human emotion and thus we have found the perfect resource for us to search for the romance cover of the future which still uses people. While researching this piece, I discovered that every video/DVD cover for romantic movies featured people.

The Classics: Faces in Close-Up

Virtually everyone, and I'm including men, have seen these three films. In fact, you will find that many men have seen most, perhaps all, of the films featured in this column. This is the first time we have been able to say this when examining romance covers. The reason is that no one looks down upon a man who sees a romantic movie; men donít walk into these films with all their defenses at the ready. Men also know that romantic movies make great "date movies" and so don't shy away from them. Men who are on the same film lists as I, will easily discuss any of the films in this column.

In all three classic romance films, the faces of the characters are seen close up. This is because the human face is the body part we instinctively look towards in order to gauge another person's feelings. Notice that each face is rendered in light and shadow as well, which is the only realistic way of capturing a portrait of the human face. It is the shadow that defines the face. Remove the shadow and the face becomes indistinct. The cover artists of these three movies also wanted to introduce the other dominant aspects of the films; those other images fill the frame on all three covers.

Gone with the Wind:
The cover shows Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, as Rhett and Scarlet, imposed over a view of Tara, her war-torn family plantation. Atlanta burns in the sky behind them as a climax to the Civil War. The actors are facing one another in profile, as if about to kiss. This face-to-face pose was most popular in the older movies but more recent years have seen cover/poster artists moving the actors into other positions. This profile facing pose tends to limit the expressions to ones of soulful longing and passion.



Casablanca:
Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart also face one another as Ilsa and Rick. Bogart is not even classically handsome yet he is able to convey deep romanticism and allure. Beneath the characters is the climactic airport scene where Rick lets Ilsa leave with her patriot husband using his exit visas. Notice that although the film was in black and white, the cover is mostly in color. This is because hand-coloring black and white photographs was in vogue then, not only for film stills but for record albums as well. An artist would paint transparently over a black and white photo, usually with oil paint. This gives a very different effect from a color photograph of the same subject. For one, flaws in the face or skin are easily concealed with this method. This technique is still used today occasionally. Colorizing a black and white film itself is a different technique accomplished by using computers.



Titanic:
This film was released in 1997 and we see a big change in the actors' positions. Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jack, is behind Rose, portrayed by Kate Winslett, who is turned to the side. Both characters' eyes are down, as if they are savoring their final moment together. We are going to see downcast or closed eyes in many of these covers because it is instinctive to cut off one sense, vision, when giving oneself wholly up to anotherís touch. By changing position, we also have the chance to see one or both characters in a pose other than profile so that we can see more of their faces.
Notice that two people can be as close together in this position as possible. The gap is actually closed between the characters as it exists in the face-to-face profile shot. His head against her neck, with her long red hair pulled away, is also an erotically charged image. The ship itself takes up the rest of the image space and it is definitely in the sinking position as its prow tilts ever upwards. The director of this film, James Cameron, is also an artist. He was the one who drew all of "Jack's" sketches. Many movie directors are also artists and this helps them a great deal when they need to come up with imagery.

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