Sep 252012

Click for a larger view.

Creative Commons License
Falling Down stencil by Benjamin Radford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at


I created this stencil of D-FENS / Bill Foster based on the film poster. Anyone is welcome to download or print it out as long as it’s not used for any commercial purpose. If you use it, send a photo!

To use the stencil:

1) download the file (the image is saved in a PNG format, so you can scale it as large as you like)

2) print it out, or take the file to a Kinko’s or another copy place and have it enlarged

3) have it laminated (this helps keep the white stencil lines intact), OR trace it onto stiff but thin cardboard

4) cut out the black outlines with scissors or utility knife

5) spray paint the stencil; you may need to retouch around the finer white lines

6) take a photo of your stencil and send it to us, telling us where and when it appeared, to show off your work!



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May 052012

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Falling Down is the audience response. Of course many films have developed cult followings; there’s nothing odd about that. But Falling Down is different, for several reasons. For one thing, most films that have enduring, cult, or even widespread audience resonance are genre films such as horror, action, or science fiction. By contrast, Falling Down is a mainstream drama / thriller / satire that doesn’t even have a clear hero (or anti-hero). Its message and moral is murky and nuanced—hardly the stuff of mainstream success.

Furthermore most films with a strong audience or cult reaction have been carefully cultivated, commercialized, merchandised, and licensed by the movie studios as part of their marketing campaigns (there’s no shortage of Batman or Freddy Krueger figurines and memorabilia, for example). Fans of those films are no less genuine, of course, but Falling Down enjoys a strong, multi-cultural, and truly grassroots resonance. The film was never intended to launch sequels (nor a video game franchise), nor sell toys and T-shirts. Because there was no effort by Warner Bros. to create a money-generating fan base, people who loved the film were inspired to create their own artwork and expressions of devotion. Here are some examples of fan-created art from Falling Down.

One t-shirt is explicit about the creator’s view of the D-Fens character: he’s an “American Hero.”

Another shirt design offers a more ambiguous phrase that emphasizes the character’s power and might: “An Army of One”:

This was actually a well-known recruiting slogan used by the United States Army between 2001 and 2006. Other shirts merely used an image from the film or poster.

One artist who goes by the name Gigantic created a series of spray-painted LP records, including one featuring a black-and-white semi-silhouette of D-Fens on the film poster, with blood-red spatters:

Then there are the figures and models. One is a simple arm-articulated action figure that has been modified and painted to look like Bill Foster:

Though the likeness (with the tie, buzz cut, and glasses) is crude, it’s still a remarkable achievement for what is essentially a custom-created piece.

The most impressive piece by far is the D-Fens figure created by sculptor Joe Bailey for the U.K.–based company Killer Kits, standing 12 inches tall including the base. All the pieces were custom sculpted and created, including the wire-rimmed glasses, the briefcase, and gun. The base has an inscription on the front reading, “I’m not economically viable,” and a Monopoly board theme on the top, with small relief depictions of various items seen in the film, including the D-FENS license plate, the gangster’s butterfly knife, a gun, and a golf ball and club.
It’s a very clever piece, combining the risk-taking, money-losing theme of the Monopoly game with the main character’s journey—not only through Los Angeles on the day the film takes place but also through life.

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May 052012

Film posters are crucial for communicating—often in a single image—what an entire film is about. It is the most important part of movie marketing, because millions of people will see the poster but only a tiny fraction of them will buy tickets to see the film.

The poster for Falling Down shows Michael Douglas’s character D-Fens / Bill Foster standing atop a graffiti-covered, crumbling concrete slab with steps leading up to it. The scene is an empty, abandoned field, though the urban skyline in the background signifies that it’s an urban story. (More skyline buildings were added in one horizontal version of the British poster.)

Atop this piece of steel and spraypaint-riddled cement platform is a middle-aged man in a white short-sleeved shirt, black pants, and a tie. Part of the character’s appeal is of course the inherent contradiction of an office drone (or nerd) with a briefcase, white shirt, and tie carrying a rifle. People associate guns and rifles with specific uniforms (such as military fatigues, law enforcement, or hunting outfits), not standard office worker uniforms.

The tagline to the right of the man (in the American poster, at least—the poster design varies slightly by country) reads, “The adventures of an ordinary man at war with the everyday world” against a smoggy sky. Below the steps is a bold, white-on-red film logo with the title, and below that is the line “A Tale of Urban Reality.” The words and phrases chosen in these taglines (ordinary man, everyday world, urban reality) evoke a populist sentiment, juxtaposed with the idea of a battle or struggle.

The poster image is fairly straightforward, but upon closer inspection we can find a few hidden symbols and meanings in the image—specifically in the concrete steps D-Fens is standing on. Much of the slab is covered with random graffiti, including the name “Pepe” written in black spray paint on the bottom left hand corner. There are also at least two skulls, one in red paint under D-Fens’s briefcase  (and to the left of the Coke can), partially obscured by sprouted rebar; and a smaller one in black paint on the third step, directly above the ‘G’ in Falling Down.

However there are also two identical silhouetted symbols of falling human figures in the image. The largest and most prominent one can be found on the far left facing side of concrete, to the left of the rebar and partly obscured by weeds. The second and smaller one can be seen directly above the ‘I’ in Falling Down. In the first instance the figure is falling headfirst (you can clearly see the outlines of the figure’s shoes), and in the second his head is facing up, perhaps falling up (or crawling) up.

"Pin man" figure in the Falling Down poster

Indeed, this falling figure was the original iconic image associated with the film. We know this because it appears on the hats and jackets given to the cast and crew during filming (see photos). The film’s poster image (including the falling figure) was not designed until after the film wrapped up shooting, and was likely completed in the marketing phase during post-production. In fact by comparing a cropped still image from that scene in the film with a cropped image from the poster we can see that both of the falling figures were not present at the time of shooting but were later added photographically in the poster art production (see images). The public would have no way of knowing what the original art was, but it remains as a hidden remnant in the final poster.

(click each image to enlarge)

Those are curious enough, but there’s an even more hidden symbol within the falling figures themselves. If you look closely you’ll see an outline of what looks like a bowling pin in white inside the figure’s torso. This also fits the film’s theme as well: people bowled over by a bowling ball of society and circumstance. You can, of course, take this metaphor as far as you like: the identical upright (and, perhaps coincidentally, white) figures standing in dutiful, orderly rigidity like office drones just waiting to be knocked down by an unstoppable force bigger than themselves. Like D-Fens and others like him, their purpose in this context is to stand there and passively accept the abuse against them; that is their role in society.

There’s yet another hidden symbol within the bowling pin image within the falling man silhouette. It is not clear enough to be seen in the film poster, but is easily seen in a close-up examination of the Falling Down crew hat and jacket:

(click each image to enlarge)

It is a circle with a short vertical line connected to (and centered over) a longer horizontal line, with a short line stroking up at the end:


At first glance it looks like it might be a symbol for a planet, but it is not; in fact I was unable to match it with any known symbols. In the end, it is probably exactly what it appears to be: the top half of a stick figure holding up his hands in surrender—another element echoing the film’s themes.

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