Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fug the READ poster - wishful thinking

Now that we've had a good look at some of the worst of the American Library Association's celebrity READ posters, I think it's time to offer up some ideas for making them better. After all, it's fun to poke fun at something, but until you offer constructive criticism, you're just being a punk.

When I look at the READ posters, certain things jump out at me:

Location/occupation. The typical pose in a READ poster is: standing or seated in front of a bland, colored backdrop, or, even worse, an over-Photoshopped melange (poor Tony Hawk). Often the celeb is HOLDING the book, instead of reading it.

Personnel. Skanky Colin Farrell is meant to appeal to whom, exactly? Probably not teen girls, and if in fact that's the case, get those girls the HPV vaccine, stat. William H. Macy? Very few readers of Curious George are likely to recognize him. Obviously there's not a lot of choice here - ALA probably gets the celebrities who are either involved with literacy programs (Levar Burton) or currently promoting a movie (Salma Hayek). Speaking of Salma, her poster says "LEA," Spanish for "read". Why doesn't Aishwarya Rai's poster include the Hindi word for "read"?

Book choice. The worst are the movie promotions. Do I believe that Keira Knightley reads Jane Austen for pleasure? Just look at that face - she has less patience for carriage rides to the ha-ha than I do. I am considerably more convinced that Britney Spears has read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And Swank probably chewed through The Freedom Writers Diary, but for work, not for fun.

Here are some of my ideas to make them better:

That's Jada Pinkett Smith reading to kids.

The celeb. My system had the opportunity recently to make some of our own READ posters, and I suggested a local band (Secret Crush Society was my nominee) or members of Baltimore's roller derby league, the Charm City Roller Girls, as literacy advocates. I also thought it would be great if we could get cast members from The Wire (especially Snoop - she has her own memoir out, Grace After Midnight) or Ogun, a hip hop star from Baltimore.

For ALA, how boss would it be to get the whole cast of Battlestar Galactica lounging around on set reading books of their choice? Or the American Idol judges reading books about performance and criticism (Paula Abdul could pick whatever she wanted though - I bet she'd surprise us by reading Derrida or something). You know what I mean? ALA needs to go pop. Lil Mama. Jay-Z and Beyonce. People that young people actually recognize - none of this Ethan Hawke stuff.

The setting. It's no crime to take advantage of a celeb's promo tour for a movie... but do it right. Costume is good, but setting is better (except for poor Elijah Wood). WAAAAY back in the day, Sting posed for a READ poster, in full costume and on location, with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Click through, it's a crappy cell phone photo, but it's worth it.

The Serena Williams poster is one of ALA's best, and it's because she's standing on a damn tennis court.

A cheap way to achieve this is with illustration. William H. Macy's Curious George poster is so much better than most because the blank background is replaced with H.A. Rey-style illustration.

The success of that particular poster makes me realize that ALA is missing a trick. Nowadays, big stars are voicing characters for animated TV series and movies. Brooke Shields did Miss Spider's voice. Jack Black is the Kung Fu Panda. You could insert Freddie Highmore into some Tony DiTerlizzi Spiderwick illustrations and bingo, you've got a poster. Jim Carrey and Steve Carell are in Horton Hears a Who, fer crap's sake. For the teens and grownups, get Marjane Satrapi to draw a panel of Persepolis with a book in it.

Next, tha book. Nice try, getting hot Eva Mendes to pose for a poster. But you let her choose Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic? Right. That's what she reads for fun. (Plus, they covered up her boobs with it - a crime in any context.)

Jennifer Love Hewitt

Here's my idea: as soon as the celebrity gets to the photo shoot, rifle through his or her bag. Go out to the car. Any reading material that you find - Thug-A-Licious, US Magazine, Three Cups of Tea, even a script - bring it in, shove it into his or her hands, and point his or her face at it. J Lo Hew is amused by what she's reading in OK! magazine in this picture (plus she looks great) - I have no idea what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar actually thinks about Huck Finn in his poster.

Roger Federer as Wart from The Sword in the Stone. Photo by Annie Liebowitz.

But in my wildest dreams, the ALA READ posters would be like the Annie Leibowitz Disney portraits. Styled to within an inch of life, featuring name-brand stars shot in the most flattering light, you could just dive into them.

Rachel Weisz as Snow White, lost in a deep forest? Find a way to incorporate a picture of the book, and that's a poster that makes someone want to read. Beyonce I'd say is a little... ripe as Alice in Wonderland, but who could argue with Baryshnikov as The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up? Do those tableaux make you think of the animated Disney movies? Not me. Those pictures make me want to revisit Alice and Peter on their home ground - in their books. [Oh, screw Disney. None of the picture links will work - you have to go to the site and click on each image.]

OR: since I'm wishing, I'll wish that ALA had the money for authentic location shots. Madonna - she even writes her own children's books (although they suck). Get her in bed at home reading to her kids. Find Miley Cyrus backstage getting her hair did, reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Shoot Lil Mama in the back of the tour bus, smoking a blunt, reading Estee: A Success Story.

I especially yearn for photos that show the book in use. Take a picture of Travolta referring to a pilot's manual as he checks out his plane pre-takeoff. Show us Angelina Jolie citing precedent from a book of case law about international adoptions in some dusty Lesotho courtroom. Jet Li with The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook open on the counter as he fills his pastry bag with royal icing. Owen Wilson consulting a Chilton car repair manual as he tinkers under the hood of Lightning McQueen. Give me Seagal beating someone to death with a copy of Eat, Pray, Love.

Oh, and Johnny Depp you can shoot in my back yard, lounging in the grass reading The Once and Future King out loud to me and my kids.

Here's ALA's latest. At first glance, I'll say "better." But let's parse.
Personnel: Steve Carell - big star.
Setting: Location photo with illustration elements - good.
Movie tie-in: Get Smart - funny movie (probably). More kid interest than, say, Miss Potter, and may I say what a WASTE of Ewan McGregor!
Library tie-in: "GET SMART... @ your library" Well, not so much. Looks like a movie poster with superimposed library text. He's nowhere near a book. And he's talking into his shoe, which makes you think he hasn't learned a daggone thing since 1965. Sigh.