Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t collect movie posters. And yet, he’s about to release a book of movie posters. It’s a typical curiosity from the director of Drive and Bronson, who was at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas to talk about the book, which is called The Act of Seeing.

Before we got to that though, it was impossible not to talk about the setting. I spoke with the director in a haunted house themed karaoke room at The Highball, a bar attached to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar where Fantastic Fest was taking place.

“Fantastic Fest is an incredible, inspiring place,” Refn said. “This is the cool festival. It’s still confined so you feel like it’s a family event. Everyone kind of knows each other and everyone is in on it where as most festivals become so big that they lose all personality. Or they become more about events or stars. This is just about loving movies.”

Refn first got wind of the festival through dealings with Mondo, the collectible arm of Alamo. Mondo did a bunch of Drive posters and vinyls (such as above) which he loved. When asked if he’d seen them before release, the director said no, because allowing creative expression is more important to him than control, even with it’s about his own movies.

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“Especially with Drive and Only God Forgives, various artists, designers or general film fanatics online have done their own interpretation and I can nothing but encourage it,” he said. “I find it personally very satisfying that someone would be willing to do that. And some of them make some incredible pieces of art.”

There are plenty of incredible pieces of art in his book, too. Last year Refn was at Fantastic Fest for a documentary directed by his wife but this year he came back with The Act of Seeing, that aforementioned poster book he made with Alan Jones. It’s a collection of exploration posters from a very specific era of sleazy Times Square (mostly the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s) and represents less than a third of the roughly 1,000 poster collection Refn purchased for a friend, even though he doesn’t collect posters.

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Looking at the posters as sort of a “time capsule” for an era of cinema long forgotten, Refn teamed up with Jones for the book. Refn picked the posters while Jones did the write-ups. In the foreword, Refn says he approached the book like he does his movies.

“Every poster has a lot of promises of what you’re going to be seeing,” Refn explained. “Like a movie, each scene promises some kind of content. If you put the scenes in the right order, it has some kind of emotional flow. And that becomes the movie. So here, all these various images, the idea was to find what order they should come in to have some kind of subconscious narrative.”

(To see examples of the posters in the book, check our our previous article.)

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As for what that narrative may or may not be, well, like most great art, it’s open to interpretation. One thing Refn definitely believes is that art, and in particular movie posters, stand for something more.

“Art represents who you are,” he said. “So much of our entertainment is based on files now. It’s so impersonal. It’s great to have, but it has no personality because you can’t see it, feel it, touch it. So the idea of vinyl or movie posters is ‘Things come back.’ People hunger for a way to create identity. And there’s nothing more sad than walking into people’s houses and theres nothing on the walls. There’s no books or music because everything is in their computer. It’s so soulless.”

Statements like that kind of make you wonder, why doesn’t this guy collect posters again?

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The Act of Seeing will be released everywhere October 5. You can pre-order it here.


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.

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