Read through the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 films and you'll notice the prominence of movies with male protagonists: Citizen Kane, The Graduate, The Godfather, Raging Bull, The General. There but outnumbered are Snow White and All About Eve.
Berlin-based artist Daniela Comani recognized this “overdose,” as she puts it, and created posters and framed DVD covers from her own invented “film history.” In the films she imagines, genders are switched — All the President's Men becomes All the President's Women. She has done work such as this before, obsessively photographing well over 100 classic novels and then subtly altering the titles digitally (a vintage version of Bernard Shaw's Woman and Superwoman is particularly striking).
Her altered movie posters can be understated, too. “People don't realize the change right away but feel that there is something wrong,” Comani says via email. “I am interested in a subtle irritation, which leads to rethinking our social structures: What if history were different?”
Here are three of her 100 posters, which are at Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown through Feb. 28:
The Elephant Woman
Comani enjoyed David Lynch's 1980 film The Elephant Man when she saw it as a teenager. “When working on the poster, I realized the double meaning of the sentences: 'I AM A HUMAN BEING' … 'I AM A MAN,'?” she says.
Those words appear in all caps on the original grainy, dark poster. Did they imply, maybe without intending to, that men were the primary humans? And what did changing “man” to “woman” do in this context?
It makes the film's premise more “precious and ambiguous” to Comani, who wrote short plot synopses of each film for My Film History, the book she published in 2013. She describes The Elephant Woman as being about disfigured Johanna Merrick, who has been exhibited in a circus “to her great anguish” but will “finally begin to live like a human being.”
The Woman Who Knew Too Much
In Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Jimmy Stewart plays a doctor on vacation in Morocco with his wife, played by Doris Day. They both learn of a plot to assassinate a foreign prime minister, but it's the doctor the villains seem more worried about.
In Comani's version, the image barely changes but the woman is emphasized. “Our interpretation of pictures changes automatically depending on the title,” she says. “When reading The Man Who Knew Too Much, we look at the man's face. When reading The Woman Who Knew Too Much, we look at Doris Day's face, asking ourselves what her expression might mean.”
Beau de Jour
“I couldn't resist giving Catherine Deneuve the moustache,” says Comani, who faithfully reproduced the creases and faded colors of a vintage poster for Luis Bunuel's Belle du Jour, then drew on the star's face as a teenage prankster might. “With all those carefully shaved men in the background, it had to be done!”
In Bunuel's 1967 film, the restless stay-at-home wife of a bourgeois doctor wanders into a brothel and becomes a prostitute by day. Comani imagines the wife as the doctor and the husband as the comfortable but restless one who begins acting out sexual fantasies. “I find my version — the flipped version — much more thrilling and, above all, less obvious,” Comani explains. “The original film from 1967 is full of stereotypes … a man's fantasy! And those stereotypes and clichés are the actual protagonists of my project.”
Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, Chinatown; through Feb. 28. cjamesgallery.com.
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