Dear TFI Readers,
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-The Film Informant
The Silence of Salvador
In 1991, while “The Silence of the Lambs” transformed horror, its poster transformed key art design. This iconic image of Clarice Starling (Jodi Foster), a moth covering her mouth like duct tape, became the foundation not only of the film’s marketing campaign, but also of the film itself.
The poster’s mind-blowing symbolism centers on the moth. After serial killer Buffalo Bill slays his victims, his signature (every serial killer needs one) is to dip their decapitated heads in formaldehyde and stuff a huge moth down their throats. Placing the moth over Starling’s mouth evokes the film’s title, but also its third act, in which Starling herself becomes a potential moth-swallower.
Furthermore, Buffalo Bill’s motive isn’t malice or blood-lust, but rather to become a woman. Not by putting on women’s clothes, but by putting on women themselves: he attempts to construct a body suite out of the skins of his female victims, who are symbolized in this poster by the little skull on the moth’s back.
That skull pattern is what gives this breed of moth, the death’s-head Hawkmoth, its morbid name. But here the pattern is replaced by a shrunken image of the famous Salvador Dali, Philippe Halsman photograph, Salvador Dali In Voluptate Mors.
The use of Dali’s photograph is a powerful symbol of Buffalo Bill’s deathly crusade to find himself by wearing herself, but it’s also this poster’s one imperfection. Key art design is often influenced by fine art, but this one-sheet leapfrogs influence and goes straight to theft. By ripping from Dali it sacrifices a small but significant shred of originality.