The Art of Birds of Prey

The Art of Birds of Prey

If you have read my work on WWAC, you will know that visual culture is my 'thing'. By that I mean, I’m all about the art, especially how pop culture riffs on famous artists and plays with their iconic images. Late last year, DC released original character art for Birds of Prey. I was already

If you have read my work on WWAC, you will know that visual culture is my ‘thing’. By that I mean, I’m all about the art, especially how pop culture riffs on famous artists and plays with their iconic images. Late last year, DC released original character art for Birds of Prey. I was already excited for the pop art extravaganza, having been thrilled by the first poster and trailer. In the former, Margot Robbie stands as Harley Quinn with what appears to be a feather mask consisting of the rest of her cast. At the time, I suggested it reminded me of a photo of my favourite artist Leonor Fini with a she stands with an acquaintance at a masked ball (Fini loved a mask). The trailer more than implies a fantabulous (sorry) musical number in the movie with Harley recreating the iconic Marilyn Monroe moment in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Birds of Prey Publicity Poster (Warner Bros, 2020)

 

Leonor Fini with Marie-Laure de Noailles, June 1946, Photo by Brassai.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey (Warner Bros, 2020)

Then, last week, the posters were released. Reader, I squealed, and three, in particular, stood out for me. Why? Here goes:

Harley Quinn

A neon explosion, Harley stands with her pet hyena emerging out of a shell in the style of Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Her mallet is in her hand; the harlequin is ready for liberation. In the comics, Harley’s hyenas, Bud and Lou, were liberated by her twice — once when she was with Joker, once when she and Joker parted ways, and he returned them to the zoo. Hyenas represent a link to Harley’s past, but also freedom: freedom from authority, constraints; she is finally free from her toxic lover the Joker.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds’s of Prey (Warner Brothers, 2020)

The hyena is especially telling here. In Leonora Carrington’s famous short story ‘The Debutante,’ a young woman frees a hyena from a zoo. Having taken her home, she switches places the animal, watching on as it kills and eats her maid, later leaping out a window to freedom. Carrington, the artist and writer best known for her association to the surrealist movement, was the debutante who ran away with the surrealists to create exceptional pieces of art to become one of the most revered artists to have lived. Although she often painted white horses as a symbol of freedom, for Carrington the hyena, which again appears in her self-portrait (c. 1937-38), represents both freedom from captivity and a connection to her old life. She is both the young woman in the story and the wild animal.

Leonora Carrington, Self-Portrait (c. 1937-38)

I’m curious how much of Harley’s hyenas we will see in Birds of Prey, and whether, like in Carrington’s case, the creature functions as an extension of herself. You can cage a wild animal, but it will always run free. And I, for one, cannot wait for Harley’s Gotham rampage.

Black Canary 

As Dinah Laurel Lance, aka Black Canary, Jurnee Smollett-Bell stands baseball in hand under the watchful eyes of what I can only describe as ‘all-seeing flowers.’ These flower eyes (as I refer to them), recall the eyes of surrealism, cemented in the movement by the eye slashing moment in Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. The eye motif also became a sartorial surrealist motif, embossed on the blouse of Rosalind Russell’s overtly curious and gossipy character in George Cukor’s The Women.

Rosalind Russell as Sylvia Fowler in The Women (George Cuckor, 1938)

Dalí took things one step further with a scene in Hitchcock’s Spellbound, a dream sequence where Gregory Peck’s doctor hallucinated a series of large-scale eyes watching him. In a move that blatantly referenced his collaboration with Buñuel, an enormous pair of scissors attempts to ‘cut’ one of those large eyes. In the poster’s case, who is watching who?

Spellbound (Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1945)

Roman Sionis

There’s a heck of a lot happening in the Roman Sionis/Black Mask image. The crime boss’ VERY BUSY poster throws in a multitude of references.

Let’s start with the pink sofa in background, a piece of furniture that bears more than a passing resemblance, right down to the same shade of pink, to the infamous lip sofa Dalí created in honour of Mae West’s lips (which looks more blush in reality than images attest). West was something of a Surrealist darling — Dalí evening created a painting in honour of her face: Mae West’s Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment (1934-35)!

Salvador Dalí, Lip Sofa (1938)

Then we have the gloved red hands coming together. Here I cannot help but seeing hand motif so prevalent in Elsa Schiaparelli’s designs, especially this belt she designed with a handclasp. Again, a very similar shade of red can be seen in the form of latex-clad gloved hands floating behind Ewan McGregor. We know that Sionis takes sadistic pleasure in torture, and the gloves imply a fetishistic and masochistic quality about his methods of torture. In surrealism, hands can be seen in numerous examples in their representations of pleasure and pain, sometimes overlapping. He wears gloves in the photo, as embellished as his outfit. I tell you something: Erin Benach’s costume design for this movie will be tremendous.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Hand Belt (date unknown)

Something else I have noticed on Roman Sionis’s poster and a couple of the others is the presence of flowers floating about the image. On the Sionis one, the white flower can be seen under the gloved hands. In this example, I am reminded here of Rene Magritte’s Le coup au coeur (The Blow to the Heart) (1952), where a beautiful blooming pink rose appears to be holding/growing a small dagger: an object of beauty and violence entwined.  Again, the violence done to Harley, the violence Sionis is capable of doing. Beauty designed as a threat.

Rene Magritte, Le coup au coeur (The Blow to the Heart) (1952).

So, there you have it, my few thoughts main thoughts on the Bird of Prey posters. A whistle-stop tour, I know, and I’m sure to have missed certain things. But whatever you see and whatever transpired in the film, Birds of Prey is set to be a fabulous visual. extravaganza and I really cannot wait.

Sabina Stent
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