The contemporary design artefact I
have chosen to talk about for this essay is Olly Moss’s Dirty Harry poster (Fig
1) which was produced for the 2010 Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow. Olly Moss
is a British Graphic designer born in 1987. He focusses predominantly on
creating film posters for both new and old films and his work is regularly
published in the Empire Magazine. His work tends to feature bold shapes and
outlines of figures along with a range of striking colour schemes, the most
well-known piece of his work being his screen-print design of three Star Wars
posters. In this essay I will discuss how I believe that Olly Moss’s work could
have been influenced by artists such as Saul Bass and work found within the
Russian constructivism design movement, in particular El Lissitsky, due to
certain similarities I have identified. At first glance, I can draw specific
links between moss’s work and the work of other artists that have come before
him, with one being his image style in relation to the style of Saul Bass and I
want to explore these in more detail.

The Dirty Harry poster is very eye
catching due to its bold silhouettes and bright use of block colour. This
poster, I feel, is very engaging as the bold silhouette of the gun creates the
outline for the face of what one can presume is the main character in the film.
This connection draws the eyes to the poster, intriguing an onlooker in order
to make them look closer at the detail and hinting at key elements of the film.
The striking orange and red background creates connotations of anger or danger,
which helps the audience build a bigger picture of what the film may be about
and foreshadows possible events.

One artist that I think is
important to mention as an influence to Moss’s work is Saul Bass. Saul Bass was
an American graphic designer who was most well-known for his title sequences,
most notably the title sequence for Otto Preminger’s film “Anatomy of a murder”
(Fig 2), which was described as “another emblematic image, instantly
recognisable” (Bass, 2011). His work is often distinctly recognisable due to
the bold colour schemes and the contrasts between the often bright backgrounds
and dark silhouettes in the foreground. His title sequences often feature bold
and heavy silhouettes, similar to ones seen in (Fig 1) and this could be
interpreted as his trade mark design feature.

Olly Moss’s Dirty Harry poster was
a screen print design based on the film Dirty Harry which came out in 1971.
When looking at this work I instantly associated moss’s work with the work of Saul
Bass, particularly linking it to the “Anatomy of a murder” title sequence (fig
2) and the “storm centre” film poster (Fig 3). I found that the most
eye-catching feature of the Dirty Harry poster was the silhouette of the gun
and I interpret this as a deliberate and sophisticated ploy by Moss to
instantly inform the viewers about the main aspect of the film. This aspect of
the poster links moss’s work to the bold figure seen in Saul Bass’s work (fig
2). The silhouette designs are both decidedly heavy in weight on the whole, but
have finer details in specific areas, such as the fingers in Bass’s work and
the loading mechanism on the gun on Moss’s poster.

When designing his title sequences for the film “Storm
Centre”, Saul Bass intended to portray the difficulties occurring in America in
the 1950s, which largely stemmed from the prevailing communism and McCarthyism.
“Saul sets up a disturbing parallel between anti-communist witch hunts of 1950s
America and the anti-Semitic witch hunts and book burning of Nazi Germany”(Bass,2011).
I believe he may have done this to create a more profound impression on his
viewers and help illustrate to the world what was happening in America, almost
like a shout for help. With Moss’s work in mind, I looked into the history of
America in the 1970s. Many people were still fighting for equality; riots being
a common occurrence, especially in relation to the Vietnam War. It was a time
when violence was at a high especially, gun crimes.  It seems that Olly moss may have taken Saul
Bass’s influence of portraying cultural context in the film advertisement and
this is why the gun is such a prominent aspect to the poster. I think as well
as the importance the gun has to the film, it also shows how gun violence was
especially common in 1970s America and how people often carried a gun as a way
of protection.

An important aspect I find
interesting is the side-on profile created by the gun and how this face has a
downward-looking profile. This profile creates the impression that the
character has an angry or unhappy persona. The raised and slightly jagged
eyebrow creates the feeling of force and gives an intimating feel to the viewer
thus creating tension for the audience just by seeing the poster. This profile
to me is very similar the profile found in Saul Bass’s film poster “Strom
Centre” (Fig 3). This Saul Bass poster contains what I interpret as two faces,
and I am focussing on the one on the right side, which is darker and looks like
it could have been made from a page of a book. Links can be draw between this character’s
face and the face in the Dirty Harry poster due to their strong facial
structure, created either by a painted line or the outline of another object,
and their downward to facing profile. I believe they both have the same facial
expression because both the main characters in “Dirty Harry” and the “Storm
Centre” films are characterised as stubborn and strong-minded characters.

Continuing to look at the facial
form, I came to connect the Dirty Harry poster with The Dog design of Noma Bar
(Fig 4). Noma Bar is an graphic designer born in Israel, who’s work often
features optical illusions by where he creates one object by using the form of
another object as seen in (fig 4). I made connections with this poster and Olly
Moss’s work because of how they both use the body of an object to create the
facial form of another object. In Moss’s case the gun shapes the outline for
the face, and in Bar’s work, he uses the back end of a dog to create the face
of another dog. This feature in Moss’s work is particularly effective as it
helps to create a connection between the attributes of the character with the
themes of the film. Bar’s combination of two objects are more extreme and make
the people viewing his work  look more
intently into his designs to try and discover the more disguised objects.
However, I think that Olly Moss deliberately didn’t hide Dirty Harry’s face so
subtly, in the way Noma Bar does, because the face is a vital part to the
poster and is giving the viewer key information about the film that is being
advertised and also giving subtle information about what the characteristic of
the main character might be. 

When looking at the interesting shape structures and the
strong colour schemes, I was instantly reminded of work within the Russian
constructivism movement, for example the piece titled “Beat the Whites with the
Red Wedge” by El Lissitzky (Fig 5). The bold shapes of Lissitzky’s piece remind
me of Moss’s work because of how the shapes are opposite in terms of the form
and colours but they connect with each other due to the composition of the page
and it shows how even though the objects are different in form (triangle and
circles) they can still interact with each other. This style of design came
about in Russia because of the need for a new design strategy to help the
country redevelop itself after the destruction caused by the First World War.
Constructivism came from developing new methods of architecture, graphic
design, photography and the invention of mass production. Artists of the
constructivism era sought to use art as a political tool and used the streets
of Russia to help rebuild and shape their society. It was a time (early-mid
1900s) where Russia wanted to make art to help develop their country as well as
decorate it “aeroplanes, perhaps, or auto-mobiles – are also the products of
true art; but we do not wish to see artistic creation restricted to just these
objects alone. Every organised piece of work – whether it be a house, poem, a
painting – is a practical ‘object”. (Lissitzky, 1992).  I think this quote goes to show how designers
in that era wanted to develop Russian art industrially but still keep some work
for aesthetic reasons, so Russia could move on from its dark days of the war
and recreate its own identity.

The design of this time was a combination of political propaganda
and an avant-garde ideology and this was the basis of Russian
constructivism.  I don’t identify any
element propaganda in Olly Moss’s work, although the gun in the Dirty Harry
poster could well have been Moss’s way suggesting America should instigate
change and deter from their long-term attitudes of supporting gun possession. I
identify a connection with the shapes and colours he uses when comparing it to
the work of Lissitsky. El Lissitsky would have used Black, Red and White
colours because these were the three colours that were the cheapest to print
and the most suitable for mass production in those days. However, I feel Moss
has used these colours to portray a sense of danger and anger which are two
main themes in the film Dirty Harry. 

The final design comparison that I
will make between Moss’s poster and Saul Bass’s storm centre (Fig 2) work is
the way in which the typographic layout is very similar. They both use white for
the main title of the films and they both use very small black typography for
each of the fine print. The typefaces used in the two posters however is
different and this could be due the poster are about different themes and come
at different times. (Storm centre in 1956 and Dirty Harry in 1971).

Finally, I have analysed the
overall composition of the poster, concerning the position of Moss’s design in
relation to the rest of the page and the space around it. It is centred and has
a downward motion effect when viewing it due to the smoke rising from the gun,
disappearing off the page. There is a liberal use negative space within the
photo and I feel this is important to the poster because it creates a better
emphasis of the gun and the face and draws people’s attention. It also shows
the face and gun as being isolated and the purpose of this seems to be to show
how the main character is alone and often left to work on single-handedly. When
looking at the design, I see a distinct connection with the Swiss Grid style
design formula. This formula was created in Switzerland and was used as a way
of removing personal views and propaganda from art and instead creating a template
that uses a scientific approach to design. It was intended to make “Advocates
argue that the style’s pure legibility enable the designer to achieve a
timeless perfection of form.” (, 2011) In
some ways, this statement is valid because people still use this design formula
in todays graphic design world and the design remains popular. A subtle grid
style can be seen in Olly Moss’s poster, for example the way the image has been
spilt into thirds (from left to right) with the main design taking up the
middle third of the poster. The gun and the face are split up into one
quadrilateral, the typography into another and then the smoke of the gun in

In conclusion, Olly Moss’s work
seems to be strongly influenced by the work of Saul Bass when creating his
poster for the Dirty Harry film. It is also clear when doing this investigation
that Saul Bass was not the only influence on Moss but that Russian
Constructivism and the Swiss Grid system may have also had a key influence.
Overall, I think the film poster is very effective as it has an eye-catching
design that people will remember but also because of the graphic elements on
the poster, giving the viewer enough information to entice them attract them to
want to see the film.




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