They had posters then

Beauty and the BeastI’m lucky to be old enough—no, really, bear with me—to remember when movie posters were illustrated, not pieced together on a Mac in some swank midtown design loft using aggressively airbrushed likenesses of the leading actors.  My formative years as a moviegoer, when going to the movies really counted, really mattered, was the late 60s through the 70s.  As far as posters painstakingly painted by a single artist were concerned, this was the end of days, and more cost-effective photographs were fast becoming the rule rather than the exception.  But the standard was still carried, the flag (albeit tattered) was still flown, and a brisk business was being done in reproduction posters from Hollywood’s Golden Age.  In my boyhood bedroom, I tacked up repro posters of Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) and James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1932).  I spent a lot of twilights, in the minutes (and sometimes hours) before sleep, staring at those brushstrokes and the wonderful nightmares they evoked. 

Captain MarvelIf movies are dreams then movie posters are dreams of dreams.  Or at least they should be.  Once upon a time—no, really, bear with me—movie posters whetted appetites and sparked fantasies… they were meant to drive you absolutely mad with wonder until you could see the particular movie in question and they did that job very well.  It’s hard to imagine in these days of intrusive, omnipresent, wall-to-wall advertising how a film poster, lushly illustrated in eight, nine, ten colors, must have popped to the eyes of someone living through the Depression or scratching out a living in the privation of the Second World War.  Back then, a bargain basement serial could be as gorgeously immortalized on a onesheet as a major studio release (which, admittedly, often led to disappointment when the title came to down).  Vintage poster collectors are paying as much money these days for what was once considered B-grade trash as they are for Oscar-winners.  As it should be. 

I Walked with a ZombieThere are a number of coffee table books out now celebrating classic poster art in horror films, film noir, sci-fi, sword-and-sandal and a couple of volumes of Italian and Mexican poster art.  Even if you just drop down in a Barnes & Noble easy chair and look for free for fifteen minutes your time will be well spent.  The cinema has lost a lot over the years; it doesn’t mean as much to us, and how could it in a world teeming with distractions and diversions.  The gradual replacement of poster illustration with PhotoShop bricolage is only a small part of that loss… but one that is acutely felt by those of us who lost it at the movies, or just standing outside the cinema looking in.

2 Responses They had posters then
Posted By Medusa : February 1, 2007 9:55 am

I share your love of posters.  I had a reproduction of Errol Flynn's "The Sea Hawk" in my room, and how lucky we were that this material was easily available to budding movie buffs like all of us here.What I especially love is that a glance at a poster will bring the entire movie to your mind in an instant; what a wonderful mnemonic device! Great post and illustrations, RHS!

Posted By Medusa : February 1, 2007 9:55 am

I share your love of posters.  I had a reproduction of Errol Flynn's "The Sea Hawk" in my room, and how lucky we were that this material was easily available to budding movie buffs like all of us here.What I especially love is that a glance at a poster will bring the entire movie to your mind in an instant; what a wonderful mnemonic device! Great post and illustrations, RHS!

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