DECEMBER 2005/JANUARY 2006

FACE/OFF

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ADVERTISERS MAKE PEOPLE’S HEADS LOOK LIKE THEY’RE COMPOSED OF TINY FOREIGN OBJECTS

by Michael Atkinson

Look again at the advertising image for the recent Andrew Niccol arms-peddling-satire Lord of War: Nicolas Cage gazes dyspeptically out at us, but a moment hangs between us before we grok what is odd about the picture—Cage’s likable hangdog visage is composed entirely of tiny missiles, piled every which way and protruding like horned-toad armor. It’s easily the strangest poster image to accompany a Hollywood film in a decade—not simply because it fails to clearly peddle a rather unmarketable movie (there’s no concrete hint as to the film’s tone, genre, story, or thrust), but because as a visual it subverts a familiar pop-cult icon (Cage) in a manner far subtler than we’re used to (which is to say we’re used to being hit with pies), and because the strategy of the composition is inherently discomfiting, suggestively subatomic, evocative of the chaotic microcosmos around us: bugs, dirt, molds, germs, viral occupations, mitotic cells, electrons occupying two locations at once.

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Michael Atkinson is a writer for the Village Voice. His latest book was a debut collection of poetry, One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train (Word Works).

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