Maxine Cheryl is the curator of @pinkfilmposters, an Instagram account which looks at the blend of pop culture and art presented by film posters and book covers in the context of the colour pink, focusing on everything vintage, gothic, horror, and giallo. Maxine is also a filmmaker in her own right, having written and directed the short film The Devil in Mary, and the upcoming The Porcelain Cradle, as well as the interactive documentary Venus Noire, which was created as part of her studies at the University of York.
This is one of a series of articles that were commissioned in January 2018 in association with For Art History, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, have not been able to be published until now. We hope you enjoy them!
What was it that made you gravitate towards ‘pink’ as the focus/unifying feature of the posters featured on your account? Can you pinpoint what it is it about the colour that appeals to you – is it just an aesthetic matter of liking how it looks, does it have particular connotations that interest you, etc.?
When I was younger I really loved the colour pink, I always associated it with cotton candy, milkshakes, and roses all these are things that made me happy. I then kind of grew out of it in my teens as I was going through a tough time, so I’d only wear black and associate myself with emo kind of ‘dark arts’, I went from one extreme to the other. It sounds silly when I think of it now, but when things started getting better in my late teens, I started to incorporate more colour in my life and slowly rekindled my love for the colour pink. In a way it is an aesthetic choice, also in my mind having pink horror posters brings together that notion of something macabre wrapped up in something pretty, and that idea fascinates me.
As per your bio, the genres this account focuses on are “Horror/Exploitation/Sexploitation Erotic/Art House cinema”. What are the features/tropes/qualities of these genres that you find interesting, and how does this inform your own film making?
I find that these films aren’t afraid to explore taboo subjects. If its not a taboo subject, what these genres have in common is being able to have a unique and deeper perspective on other subjects.
To give an example, The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) is an adult film about a depressed middle-aged woman who decides to commit suicide, after her death she goes to a spiritual realm where she is then not allowed to cross over to heaven because she killed herself. Miss Jones is then given the option to either stay in Purgatory/Limbo or go to Hell. Of course, Hell is not an option for Miss Jones because she lived a decent and “pure” life. So, she makes a deal with the man at heaven’s door to go back and earn her crossover to heaven. When she is sent back, however she is put in a position where she must decide whether to engage in a deviant sexual encounter (a threesome) or continue in her “pure” ways. From this point she decides to use her time to indulge her lust, and goes on various sexual escapades with several people, ruining any chance she had of going to heaven but rather choosing to enjoy her life and an eternity in hell as the consequence.
When I was younger I really loved the colour pink, I always associated it with cotton candy, milkshakes, and roses… all these are things that made me happy… in my mind having pink horror posters brings together that notion of something macabre wrapped up in something pretty, and that idea fascinates me.
The way the film deals with female sexuality is interesting, raises questions as to why a woman of a certain age should resort to dying a depressed spinster because she is no longer seen as a sexual being. Why a woman having multiple partners makes her a sex addict but not the man (particularly in the film) and if what she does causes nobody any harm why does she have to redeem herself from it. Of course, the sex doesn’t empower her, but it somehow fulfils her, and everyone seek fulfilment in some way in their lives. To me Heaven and leading a “pure life” represents the institutions and the ideas created by men to keep women from taking control of their lives. These are all things that seem relevant to today’s culture in some way. I always find that the women in these films are often very well thought out characters even though at surface level they don’t seem that way. It is often in these genres that stories can be surreal, far- fetched and just plain crazy but the meaning behind them is a critical analysis of our reality the world around us. I realise that not all of these films are that way but the ones I truly enjoy have some aspect of this about them. This is often how I try and approach my filmmaking.
One of the key things we’re interested in in terms of our work as TAH are the ways that tabloid photography has been legitimised as an art form — do you think the same can be said of film posters? Should we look at them in the same way a painting in a gallery, and do they deserve a similar kind of critical discourse?
I think that film posters are slowly becoming a lost art. I get so disappointed when I see a poster for an incredible film and it’s just a still from the film and some text added in photoshop. The artwork of a film to me is just as important as the film itself. I know in the past they would sometimes draw a poster before even making the film, which is crazy, but I believe that the artwork is the best way of communicating your story without even saying to anyone what its about, just as the same way The Mona Lisa tells the story about the woman in the image. Yes, they deserve this kind of critical discourse because the poster is part of a greater narrative. Sometimes posters even give a different interpretation of the cinematic work based on the way the artist responds to the work and it could resonate with someone else. I think there is something beautiful and special about poster artwork because it brings together filmmakers and artists’ ideas onto one painting giving it more meaning. I don’t know I think that makes it better.
What are your favourite films/directors of this genre?
This question is unfair because there are so many! haha
- Věra Chytilová who made Daisies, Fruit of Paradise, and Automat Svet
- Dario Argento
- David Cronenberg
- The Devil in Miss Jones
- Pink Narcissus
- Maya Deren
I could write a full page list but I always freeze up when this question is asked.
As well as film posters, you also feature book covers on your account, specifically 1970s/80s horror/gothic romance covers. These covers are so interesting in how strong certain tropes and imagery are, appearing again and again on various covers – the young woman in a nightgown fleeing an old castle/manor is particularly prominent. Do you have any thoughts on what it is about this imagery that makes it so enduring and appealing?
It is the mystery in the images, what is a beautiful girl in a night gown down running away from a big house or a castle? To me it is almost like a princess fleeing from the fairy-tale, the happy ending she has been told to aspire to her entire life has begun to show its cracks and it turns out life in the castle isn’t always happy ever after. To me these images are antithesis of those things, even with fear in her eyes, barely any clothing the girl is running away to find herself to find a true happily ever after. I also love aesthetics of them of course the composition really does make the houses seem very sinister like a character themselves, very similar to images you often see in Giallo films.
I love what you said in your answer to the first question of a concept of the macabre wrapped up in prettiness, and the contrast between the two, and I wonder if that’s also applicable to the concept behind these covers – that it is the very contrast between the beauty of the fleeing figure in her romantically flowing nightgown with the foreboding horror within that makes the horror all the more terrifying to the reader/viewer.
Yes this is exactly what it is; I couldn’t put it in better words myself.
You mentioned the film ‘Daisies’ by Věra Chytilová as one of your favourites, and I wonder if maybe your enjoyment of the film links in with this idea of the contrast between ‘darkness wrapped up in prettiness’ also? It obviously doesn’t have the ‘macabre’ in the same sense as some of the other directors/films in your list, but there definitely is a theme running through the film of the prettiness of these girls with their lovely dresses and flower crowns with the so called “bad” behaviour, such as gluttony, trickery, and destruction, they engage in – it was even banned for many years in Czechoslovakia precisely because it ‘depict[ed] in the wanton’. Is it the ‘wanton’-ness of Marie I and Marie II, and the fact that they specifically use their femininity and beauty as a means to engage in this ‘wanton’ness, that interests you about the film, or something else?
Again I couldn’t have said it better, even though Daisies isn’t a horror it definitely embodies all those themes you mention which I enjoy. I also mention Daises because it introduced me to the Czech new wave cinema movement which I absolutely love, and it is also one of the first films that I watched that was very experimental, used bold editing and didn’t really rely on linearity to help us understand the girls. I also really enjoyed it because its part of a greater narrative in Czechoslovakian history, it was made just before the Prague Spring reforms and I think its boldness reflects the attitudes of artists, and citizens who were ready for political liberalisation around that time.
I am very interested in films that have female characters with complex psychologies and I am very interested in seeing WOC in such films because truth be told most of these films (at least the most popular ones) feature white women. With The Porcelain Cradle I want it to be the beginning (at least for me) of situating black female characters with complexities and depth in a Horror narrative because I don’t think I see much of it, not in new films anyways.
You’ve commented in your Instagram captions for @pinkfilmposters that it’s often difficult to find covers featuring women of colour, and how frustrating that is. Do you have any further thoughts/comments on this that would like to share? And are there any covers/posters you have been able to find featuring WoC that you think are particularly interesting/would like to draw attention to?
As a woman of colour, I am always looking for something in general media that I can relate to. In terms of current media, there is a lot out there for me, but after starting this page I realised that there isn’t many Gothic novel covers or really vintage film posters that suit the page which is shame. I am still searching hard and I feel like I will stumble on something soon. That’s not to say there isn’t any that aren’t Pink! There are a lot of film posters and book covers in many colours with similar aesthetics out there featuring people of colour they just don’t work on this page at the moment which makes me even more determined to find more pink ones.
Do you have a favourite poster or cover out of the those you’ve posted?
I really enjoy posting images and I have to say I love every image that I post, I always make sure it is something that I find visually appealing before I post them not just something to suit the theme. With that said one of my favourite posters has to be the Killer Party Poster (1986) poster, which is an image of a girl hugging what looks like her prom date. You can only see part of his face and it has flesh, like a normal human on it but then you look at his hand and it is skeletal. It is very well illustrated, its mysterious, it tells a story even before seeing the film and uses colours that complement each other well blue, pink and white, which actually was the colour scheme I used for my own short film The Devil in Mary.
The Devil in Mary, 2017, dir. Maxine Cheryl
Speaking of your film The Devil in Mary – would you tell us a little about it, and how you found the process of creating and directing the work?
I started thinking about The Devil in Mary a long time ago and by the end of my first year at University I wanted to find a way to articulate creatively a fear of sleep I’d developed, in my mid to late teens and that’s how the film was conceptualised. It sounds silly to have “a fear sleep” but it developed after I had experienced an assault, and from that point I would frequently have sleep paralysis episodes with the assault materialising itself in that sleep paralysis form. I wanted to make a film that would feel like a never-ending dream or a nightmare rather (much like the sleep paralysis episodes I was experiencing). In the actual film you see Mary’s paralysis episode in detail and her ways of trying to stop it from happening, but this feeling of limbo carries on with her through the rest of the day and things she fears the most materialise and haunt her as she goes through with her day. It is a very mood driven personal piece of work and looking at it now I think I am truly the only person who understands each part of the film, this has made me sceptical about putting it online because I’ve found that its very divisive with people who have seen it. Even though I was under deadline pressure to finish a short, making this film felt very organic and comfortable. It was sometimes difficult to relay the story to my cast and crew because it was so personal but because I knew what exactly what I wanted being the writer/producer/editor/director the actual process of realising the idea to screen felt kind of natural.
You’re currently working on a new short film, The Porcelain Cradle – how are you finding that process in comparison to the creation of The Devil in Mary? And what can you tell us about the plot?
The Porcelain Cradle is psychological horror which aims to explore the idea of ‘loneliness in suburbia’ through the perspective of a psychoneurotic spinster, who becomes obsessed with a family in living her neighbourhood. I can’t say anymore without revealing too much about the plot 😊 but I will be sure to put it out there once it’s done… eventually! The way that this film differs from The Devil in Mary is it is a much deeper study of the main character’s psychology or the breakdown of it. TDIM touches on this for the Mary character but then focuses on mood and external forces, whereas TPC is more internal and explores the character in depth.
I am very interested in films that have female characters with complex psychologies and I am very interested in seeing WOC in such films because truth be told most of these films (at least the most popular ones) feature white women. With the Porcelain Cradle I want it to be the beginning (at least for me) of situating black female characters with complexities and depth in a Horror narrative because I don’t think I see much of it, not in new films anyways.
Making this film is even more exciting because it is collaborative; TPC also has a small budget which was raised through crowd funding. I am working with a fabulous team of 8 and everyone is passionate about the story and knows the story in its depths and passionate about their roles. With the Devil in Mary I was responsible for every decision made from financial to creative, every little detail. Of course, I had help during production but everyone who was coming in at that production stage had not been involved from the beginning and would not be involved at the end. With TPC however everyone in the team is involved from conception till the end, and my focus is Directing, making sure it translates well to screen. I feel it is a much easier process when you have more people involved who are also creative but more importantly people who are organised.
Like me, you’re from the North, so I’m interested to get your thoughts on filmmaking within the North, especially as generally so many opportunities/projects within UK filmmaking are exclusively based in London/the South.
Opportunities in the north are very rare. There isn’t really much out here (that I know of at least) to support up and coming filmmakers and if there is getting to it is about who you know. I live in Sheffield and there is a small independent filmmaking community there that I am part of and everyone helps each other out, often working with little to no resources. We are lucky to have a few festivals and productions companies around but even then it seems like they choose to source talent from London/the South. That’s not to say there aren’t people from the north working in film or TV because there are plenty, but it seems like the best way to cultivate a career in this industry is to move to London which I think is a unfortunate because financially that’s often not an option for a lot of us.
@pinkfilmposters, Max herself, and The Porcelain Cradle‘s progress are all available to follow on Instagram. The Devil in Mary is available to watch on YouTube, and Venus Noire can be experienced here.
WORDS BY CHLOE ESSLEMONT
ILLUSTRATION BY CHLOE ESSLEMONT