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Reinterpreting Identities in Indonesian Classic Films Poster with Gambar Selaw


“Sundel Bolong” is the most selected film by the member of Gambar Selaw

If there’s a month where Indonesian movie buffs gather at the theater to glorify the beauty of art directing and story-telling, probably March is the answer. It’s simply because the National Film Month is celebrated every March 30th. To commemorate the moment, The Jakarta Arts Council and Kineforum are regularly held a two weeks-length series of events to satisfy the cinephile. It’s the sixth year since the first celebration of Sejarah Adalah Sekarang (History is Now). More than twenty film screenings (old and new), discussions, art exhibition, bazaar, and music concert can be enjoyed at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) area.

One of the highlighted events is the Indonesian Classic Film Poster Illustrations exhibition by Gambar Selaw—or shortened by Galaw—curated by Ade Darmawan. Gambar Selaw is a drawing club established in September 2011, who has a regular meeting every Thursday night at Ruru Shop, ruangrupa. Sixty-four posters inspired by twenty classic Indonesian movies are exhibited at Galeri Cipta 3, TIM.

Kineforum randomly chose the movies, focusing on classic Indonesian movies that produced between 1950-1980s. There was no specific theme applied. “Before start making artworks, the artists watched the selected movies together at Kineforum. Then, they were free to choose the title of the movies they are going to reinterpreted,“ explained Darmawan on the opening night. The private screening was limited to several movies only, most of them are the less-popular ones, unlike Sundel Bolong, or Catatan si Boy.

This becomes interesting, since half of the movies were produced before the 1980’s, far before most of the artists have even born yet. It’s not a surprise if later, movies like Sundel Bolong, Gitar Tua Oma Irama, and Gundala Putra Petir become top 3 most picked movies by them, because those are movies are more popular amongst the others, and the characters have become somewhat icons over decades.

The film titles range over three decades, from the 1953’s production Harimau Tjampa, until the 1980’s hit about the local casanova, Catatan si Boy. Not to mention the legendary long-haired, hole in the back female ghost, Sundel Bolong, who brought the cast, the late Suzanna, to the top of public’s mind when it comes to horror movie.

The exhibition divided into two sections at the gallery. On the first floor, the artworks are divided into several movie titles, such as Sundel Bolong (1981), Djenderal Kantjil (1968), Manusia 6.000.000 Dollar (1981), Harimau Tjampa (1953), and Catatan si Boy (1987). All artworks were digitally finalized, so the artists can add texts like movie tagline and credit title.On the second floor, we can find illustrations from Gundala Putra Petir (1981), Intan Berduri (1972),Gitar Tua Oma Irama (1977), Asrama Dara (1958), Perawan Desa (1978), Tangkaplah Daku Kau Kujitak (1987), Pak Prawiro (1958) and many more. The artists also exhibit the original sketches here. Most of them are in an A4 format or smaller, to make it easier to be scanned for the finalization.

Sundel Bolong seemed to be the diva among all. Approximately eight artists created remake the movie poster of this nation’s most memorable ghost. The long hair and hole in the back, are kept exposed in an uncannily bone-chilling feeling. Lucky for us, new approach was offered that can save us from the the monotone iconic clichés. The initiatives came from two artists who thought it was a good idea to sprinkle the artwork with a bit of humor. Their attempt, in the end, wasn’t failed at all.

“Sundel Bolong” by The Popo

They are The Popo and Johan Ardhika. They have succeeded in making Sundel Bolong becomes less scary. Johan Ardhika, for example, he took advantage of one of the famous lines in the movie, “Satenya 200 tusuk, bang!” (200 satays, please!). Instead of exposing the back, he chose to expose the this legendary scene into the poster; Sundel Bolong eating satay. On the other hand, Popo, not only drew a female ghost figure showing her hollow back, but also put a street tailor as an extra stunt on her side. Riding his bicycle, the tailor seemed offering a service to Sundel Bolong—presumably to sew her back—but the lady ghost refused by giving him a hand signal. Popo, who is also known as Jakarta’s own street artist, is consistently using humor in most of his artworks. His other creation is Gundala Putra Petir (Gundala the Son of Lightning). This time, he made a literal interpretation of the movie title; Gundala were drawn holding a blue balloon on the right hand, and his father’s hand, the Lightning, with the left hand.

The mediums are varied; from drawing pen, pencil color, marker, water color, and many more. Unlike the mediums, the artist were using quite similar approaches in remaking these classic Indonesian movie posters. There were at least two major approaches.

The original “Catatan si Boy” film poster (right) with its illustration series by Gambar Selaw

The first, and most used approach by all of the artists is using the figure as the key. It is very common for us to see artworks exposing character(s) as the main subject of the poster. Major part of the gallery are filled with posters like that. To name a few, there were Sahal Abraham, who chose to draw Rhoma Irama in Sjumandjaja’s 1977 Gitar Tua Oma Irama; Nona Kumis, with herLupus and his infamous blowing bubble gum habit in Asrul Sani’s Tangkaplah Daku, Kau Kujitak (1986); Johan Ardhika, who exposed the national playboy with his iconic aviator sunglasses and Mercedes E-Class in Catatan si Boy (1987), and Tiffany, who deliberately exposed the female gang of four in Asrama Dara (1958).

Similar thing also found in the superhero movies section. Without having to look at the caption, we can easily recognize the movie title by looking at the exposed figure. There were DC Comics’ knock-off, Rama Superman Indonesia (1974) by Bayu Wibowo; Lahirnja Gatotkatja (1960) by Effi; and the local version of the famous tv serial The Six Million Dollar Man, Warkop DKI – Manusia 6.000.000 Dollar (1981) by Anis Wuku.

It’s not a surprise, considering it is probably the easiest and the safest way to make a movie poster; by using its key message. Therefore, people could recognize, and get a brief information about the story, at the same time.

“Djendral Kantjil” series by Gambar Selaw

The second approach, which I find more interesting, was by using a symbol that could represent the movie well enough. Danang Sulistyo maintain this simplicity in two of his artworks, a chicken-shaped money-box made of clay for Pak Prawiro (1958), and a gun for Djendral Kantjil (1968). If we look back at the movies, this is actually also a safe attempt. Pak Prawiro is a movie about a villager named Prawiro, who suggested people to start saving money for the better future. This movie was also produced as Bank Tabungan Pos propaganda. In other hand, Djendral Kantjil, is a children movie about a boy who asked his parents for a toy gun. After getting what we wanted, he started a troop with his friends, who later has managed to thwart a theft in their neighborhood.

The two approaches gave different impacts to the spectators. The first approach, which expose actors as main subject, delivered information about the character; while the second one, which tend to reveal symbol, delivered a message about the story.

At first, movie poster was a strategy to cut the promotional budget. They were designed to grab people’s attention and get them want to see the movie, before having to do a television commercial. If a picture speaks louder than a thousand words, a movie poster has a tougher job, because it has to sell itself at the same time.

We can’t ignore the fact that people having the need to get informed about the movie before they watch it. The sources are then open into three forms: text (synopsis), visual (poster), and audiovisual (trailer). So it is safe to conclude that the key message in a movie poster, is vital, because it grows become the movie identity itself. In this case, the artists have chosen a particular movie identity to be exposed in each artwork, but also, their identity as well. ***

Indonesian Classic Film Poster Illustrations, an art exhibition by Gambar Selaw, from 23 – 31 March 2012 at Galeri Cipta 3, Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Jl. Cikini Raya 73, Central Jakarta. For more infomation about Gambar Selaw (Galaw):