An independent archive of typography.

Breathless (1960) British movie poster

Contributed by Florian Hardwig on Sep 6th, 2021. Artwork published in
circa 1985
Breathless (1960) British movie poster 1
Source: Heritage Auctions. License: All Rights Reserved.

In 1960, French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo rose to international fame through the success of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, in which he co-starred with Jean Seberg (1938–1979).

This quad poster (30″×40″) was made for a British re-release in the 1980s [Dwyer] by Recorded Releasing Company. The title is shown in giant red caps from Filmotype Gable with an added drop shadow, and not aligned to a common baseline. The original French title, À Bout de Soffle (“out of breath”), uses the same typeface, or maybe the slightly lighter sibling style, Galaxy. These anonymous phototype designs came with a number of alternate glyphs, including two forms for S, one with a sloping middle part and one where it’s almost horizontal. Galaxy, Gable, and the bolder Garfield and Gamma were copied by VGC as B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4, and subsequently digitized by URW under the names Bee One to Four.

Thanks to their supereconomic proportions, this font series is commonly used for the credits on movie posters, where actor/studio contracts stipulate a minimum height, but not width. In this case, though, the beanpoles play the lead.

The names in blue are set in Alternate Gothic No. 2. All other type including the blurbs (“Seriously stylish … outrageously sexy”) and the small credits are in Trade Gothic Extended (or maybe News Gothic Extended, which is virtually identical).

Jean-Paul Belmondo passed away today in Paris at the age of 88. Rest in peace.

Source: Heritage Auctions. License: All Rights Reserved.


Source: Heritage Auctions. License: All Rights Reserved.


3 Comments on “Breathless (1960) British movie poster”

  1. See also another poster for Breathless designed by Peter Strausfeld for the Academy Cinema in London:

  2. Hello Florian, I am the designer of this poster: Andy Chambers, working for 2D Design Limited in the 1980’s.

    2D Design was set up by Mike Leedham and had studio space initially in the offices of ‘The Other Cinema’ film distributors in Tisbury Court in the heart of London’s Soho, before moving to premises on the top floor above Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road in about 1985. Mike built up a clientele of independent film distribution companies (The Other Cinema, Mainline Pictures, Artificial Eye, Palace Pictures) and associated repertory cinemas – The Scala in King’s Cross, The Gate in Notting Hill, Everyman in Hampstead, The Screens on the Green (Islington) and Hill (Belsize Park), also working for the BFI, ICA and Royal Court Theatre. We produced posters, programmes and press advertising – Friday evenings were particularly busy, rushing out the ads that would fill next week’s cinema listing pages in Time Out and City Limits.

    Recorded Releasing were a new company and I think this UK re-release of BREATHLESS was the first film they’d worked with. They came to us for a poster design and it fell on my desk. This was pre Apple Mac – the poster design was artworked using a parallel motion desk, a conti board base with acetate overlays. Rotring pens, scalpel blades, cow gum and masking tape were still the order of the day.

    The title lettering was produced on a very basic ‘Strip Printer’ device we had in the corner of our darkroom, nothing as sophisticated as a ‘Filmotype’ machine, and I don’t remember the font being identified by name beyond ‘Condensed’. We had a couple of other fonts, a script and a slab serif. They came on 1 inch rolls of film which you threaded through with a strip of photo sensitive paper, trapping both in an aperture, flicking on the little light bulb, counting the seconds then moving film and paper on before selecting the next letter. I then blew up the result on an old manually operated Grant Enlarger to give me workable sized artwork to physically cut, letter space and paste on my artboard. The other Trade Gothic type elements were sent out for overnight photosetting.

    The image of Jean-Paul and Jean Seberg was from an original publicity 10x8 again using the Grant Enlarger to produce a halftone (We had various screens, 65 / 85 / 150 dpi) that I could scalpel cut to isolate the two figures. I was pleased that I could partially obscure the title with the figures without losing readability, the crossbar of the cap H connecting the couple.

    I’m grateful to you for showing an interest in the poster and for finding a correct original reproduction – over the years I’ve seen a number of reprints, on t-shirts, mugs, postcards etc, which use a garish 100% yellow as the background. In retrospect I’m slightly embarrassed to see that I’ve disregarded all the French accents on names, and relegated the great cinematographer Raoul Coutard to small print.

    The distribution company were delighted with the poster – the re-release was a success. And I remember word reaching me that Bonnie Vaughan (Blitz Magazine quote credit) wanted to buy me a drink for placing her name directly above Jean-Luc Godard’s. Finally, fun fact, and I’m pretty sure I only noticed this after the event – if you only read the letters that aren’t dropped from the baseline, it says B EAT LE S

    Andy Chambers, 21 Sept 2021

  3. Hello Andy, thank you very much for chiming in here! Your comment made my day. Great to be able to put a name to this striking poster – I’ve happily added design credits.

    I’m especially grateful for your description of the analog process. When I started art school, they were just mothballing the giant repro camera – once the precious centerpiece of the labs, it simply wasn’t needed anymore. The teachers still had us try our hands on Rapidographs, scalpels, and cow gum (I knew it under the name Fixogum) – but sure, it was an obsolete craft already. For those readers who want to learn more about the era of paste-up, or if you, Andy, want to take a trip down memory lane, there’s a wonderful documentary by Briar Levit, titled Graphic Means.

    I don’t know if the Filmotype machine was a lot more sophisticated than the Strip Printer that you describe. Never had the chance to operate one. Invented in the 1950s, it was the first device for display phototypesetting that was small in size, making it portable. Stuart Sandler wrote a book about its history. The Filmotype used 2-inch unsprocketed filmstrips. This font format was easy to copy, for better or worse. When VGC launched the Typositor in the 1960s, they copied the complete Filmotype library and gave the fonts alphanumeric codes.

    No, I didn’t notice the hidden Beatles – that’s a great Easter egg!


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