Movie posters are my thing and passion.
The standard Hollywood release poster has a lot of restrictions imposed upon it that makes it tough to raise anything produced by a studio advertising department to the level of art. Placement of stars, directors and sometimes screenwriting credits are always negotiated by agents into the signed contract. Often a star would require that his face be centrally located and top billed, almost always at the uppermost left or right hand corner. Sure, some of these kinds of posters can be artful. Still, being artful doesn't make it art...
It is hard for an ad person to be creative when they are dealing with these restrictions. Add time restraints and it’s no wonder most Hollywood release posters are hack jobs, showing the same thing in the same way over and over again. Most of the art work is contracted out to whoever can do it faster and in the most obvious way.
Back in the '60s and '70s when movies began to be seen more as both art and entertainment, movie posters started reflecting the switch. Bob Peake (posters for My Fair Lady, Camelot and Apocalypse Now) and Drew Struzan (Star Wars) were the fathers of a movie poster renaissance that went hand and hand with the rise of Hollywood's New Wave of directors (Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, Bob Rafelson, Francis Ford Coppola) and actors (Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Peter and Jane Fonda, Dennis Hopper) that took their cues and style from European Auteur Cinema (Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivtette, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer).
These were adult films for a mature audience that appreciated the depth of plots, the actors and themes, the whole artistry involved. Even the big event films like Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, Camelot, West Side Story were roadshow attractions that first played at Radio City Music or the local opera or concert venue for a limited reserve engagement before they were released at the local movie palace. These were shows were mom and dad got dressed up for and hired a babysitter for the night.
What then killed the Hollywood art poster? In a word, Jaws. The Steven Spielberg film launched the summer blockbuster. Universal smartly released the film with a PG rating and scheduled it right in the middle of semester breaks for High School and College. That 13-25 demographic not only loved Jaws, it devoured it over and over again, making the film the highest grossing movie ever at the time.
The blockbuster became the sole reason for making films for most major studios. Smaller films which catered to an adult audience fell by the wayside into unfavorable release dates and less theaters. If a film couldn’t make a profit in its first two weeks of release the studio would not release it. Never mind letting a small serious film find its audience via word of mouth and critics reviews and gaining a medium size profit after a one or two month run. It was all or nothing. The bigger the ad campaign the better. All that mattered was getting the right kind of Fannies in the seats in the least amount of time then letting repeat viewers generate extra box office chum.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The imitators that followed Jaws became a dull form of a much copied copy and the posters that promoted them started losing their edge and depth, started losing their art. Even the better action and adventure flicks like Star Wars and the Raiders of the Lost Ark series recycled bits and pieces of older movie serials. The directors and writers smashed them together into a mythology that made them appear new and shiny to the younger kids. Much of it was fun, a little bit of it was actually great and some of it was art. Drew Struzan was a master of making these posters for these newly old movies. His craft was deep enough to be art to the younger demographic that was now the majority ticket buyers.
The Imitation Game
The alternate art movie poster at its core is fan art. It is created by the artist fan with the talent and the vision to create and sell his/her vision of the film. Like most art it comes from a profound disgust for the current status quo.
The alternate movie poster artists are mostly an undisciplined lot by Hollywood standards, which is why most never made it as professional comic book artists or Hollywood animators. They just can’t draw the same thing over and over again. They just don’t have the patience for it.
The Theory of Everything
They draw what they love—the horror and sci-fi flicks they grew up on and saw over and over again. It is different and sometimes it is deep and unique to be art rather than an expression of craft. That uniqueness takes their posters to the first step of becoming art. Their work is different and energetic enough to stand out.
There are a lot of artists who are on the edge of being very good in this collection of alternate movie posters for this year’s Academy Best Picture nominees. Orlando Arocena, Tomer Hanuka, and Malika Favre are my favorites. Favre in particular is developing a style that straddles the dividing line between pop art and high art. Her BAFTA posters for The Theory of Everything, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Games and Boyhood are balanced between maturity, light and shade and illuminated in a way that hints at the layers just underneath.
Only experience, seeing more movies, both eye candy and brain candy, or ideally ones that merge the two, is keeping them from true greatness. If they want to be a truly great artist they must make the leap away from fan art and the need to draw what they love to drawing what they see and feel, know and understand completely in a physical, intellectual and emotional sense.
Here is an interesting statistic that illustrates my point. Of the twenty-seven pieces in this collection only about five or six were drawn well before the Academy nominations were announced. The visual splendor of The Grand Budapest Hotel enchanted the most artists. Selma inspired the least. If you go the artist’s website you’ll find that for every serious foreign or independent movie drawn there are at least twenty more for horror, fantasy, action and sci-fi.