My Own Private Idaho | The Criterion Collection
[March | April 2006]
Before he launched his design career, Marc English studied music composition and arrangement at the Berklee College of Music. Now the founder of Austin-based Marc English Design, he recently found an unlikely similitude between design and the musical pursuit of his previous life. Speaking about his DVD packaging for Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, English says: "That's exactly what this was. This was composing and arranging someone else's photography to help tell a story in print that's actually told on film."
In fact, there is a musical quality to the packaging, which includes a book, two DVDs, and slip-case. The design cross-references the movie's themes - which include narcolepsy, homosexual prostitution, and Shakespeare's Henry the IV - as if the package were a contrapuntal, albeit visual, arrangement. Throughout the 60-page book, English's decorative fonts, which evoke the 17th century in which Shakespeare wrote, play against contemporary stills from the film. On one spread, a Q&A from Interview Magazine, that evangelist of modernity, sits on the pages like a folio of a Shakespearean play.
Juror DJ Stout, partner at Pentagram in Austin, was impressed by English's attention to detail, each of which, he says, "is cared for." One of the more provocative details among these "cared for" elements appears on the cover. In the center of a decorative "O" that completes the word, "Idaho," is the rendering of a bent-over (look closely) cherub. "He's offering up his portal," says English, with relish, "which is partially what the film is about."
English's references to antiquity don't merely ape the vernacular of a bygone era; his sources are authentic. The book's cover has the texture of worn leather, which comes from a scan of an 1853 psalmody. That ribald O is a real Venetian letter form, circa 1500, while the flourishing "P" that appears throughout the book was designed by Nurnberg's Paulus Franck-Schatzkammer in 1601. "What he's done," says Stout, "is reinterpret these classical elements in a very contemporary way, which is admirable. It's easy to study up on a classic look and imitate the genre. But none of this is decorative trickery. He's communicating something more."
"A longtime 'Idaho fan' (although not a 'fanatic') and that's how I came across the packaging. It is one of the most beautiful designs I have seen, and also perfectly conveys the many essences of the movie - in fact, in some ways I like it better than the movie itself! (is it heretical to say that?) I only wish my other favorite movies received such lavish packaging treatments. I live in Seattle, one of the 3 locations featured in the movie."