Jodie Foster and the Skull Orgy
As some of you may know, there is nothing we love more than discussing hidden imagery in movie poster one-sheets. It’s like Hollywood’s version of a hidden 3D poster you saw at the mall as a kid: stare at it long enough, and you are bound to find something. An impressive variation on this “hidden gem” idea is when the extra discovery actually contributes to the design of the poster itself. This idea brings us to the U.S. domestic one-sheet for the Oscar winning film Silence of the Lambs.
When a designer hides or adds a less than overt element to a composition it is sometimes called a secondary image or second read. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo. You’ve looked at something countless times only to discover something new (or like most of us, have it pointed out to you).
In the Silence of the Lambs movie poster, Jodie Foster’s face is given a high contrast treatment with a large moth placed over her mouth. Looking closer at the moth, we notice a subtle skull on the head of the butterfly — the so-called “death’s head” moth from the film. A striking image, which matches the dark tone of the film itself.
In the Silence of the Lambs image, the ambiguous skull on the moth is actually made up of seven naked female bodies. The image of the “skull orgy” originated in a portrait photograph by Philippe Halsman of Salvador Dali, entitled Salvador Dali In Voluptate Mors. (The photo itself was inspired by surrealist Dali’s gouache Female Bodies as a Skull painting. Dali later translated the same idea into his own live nude sculptures.) The Lambs one-sheet was created by the (now defunct) film advertising agency Dazu, and the skull image idea was reportedly given to the agency by director Jonathan Demme specifically for use in the film’s poster artwork.
By the way, I’ve had trouble locating an online image of Salvador Dali’s original drawing / gouache painting of Female Bodies as a Skull, so if anyone has any link suggestions for the image, it would be appreciated.
The secret quote that I saw nowhere: The moth with that scull (with exactly the same pattern of the women), was first seen in the movie of Luis Bunuel Un Chien Andalou that Bunuel made with his good friend Dali on 1929.
So, Jonathan Demme must have asked that from the agency as a tribute to Bunuel and Dali, having seen their movie.
And a small bad quolity ss from that movie:
I’ve always wondered if it was inspired by the cover of the Genesis album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”.