Silkscreen, 29 15/16 x 20 1/16 inches. Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics
In 1968, the world order seemed to be collapsing everywhere. Student protests were halting business from Paris to Prague and from Mexico to East Los Angeles. As protests against the Vietnam War escalated, every aspect of the dominant corporate-promoted culture was challenged, including political life, music, and fashion. A distinct counter-cultural art style developed that was inspired by Art Nouveau, Pop art, and Op art and incorporated Surrealism, Eastern mysticism, and the drug culture. Labeled the psychedelic style, it began in San Francisco and quickly spread throughout the world. Its signature qualities included richly saturated colors often juxtaposed in clashing contrasts to make the colors appear to vibrate. The hand-drawn lettering was irregular, intricate, and ornate, all of which prohibited using standard offset printing type. Words were often difficult to read to make it harder for the “over thirty” generation.*
The psychedelic style was popular in Cuba and was used in both political and film posters. Here, the film title is featured on the whale’s massive tail as it rises out of—or smashes down into—the concentric circles of the ocean’s waves. The tail also becomes the rising or setting sun, out of which emanates multicolored rays of light. In the context of 1968, Melville’s classic tale about Captain Ahab’s obsession with destroying the whale that bit off his leg can be seen as a cautionary tale about the obsession of the United States to win, at all costs, in Vietnam.
*A popular slogan of the time was: “Never trust anyone over thirty.”