Movie Posters — A Lost Art

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The most valuable movie poster ever sold at auction went for $478,000 last week. It was for the 1927 film London After Midnight. I’m guessing most haven’t seen this Lon Chaney picture.

Heritage Auctions said it’s the only poster of the film known to exist. To me, that makes it different than say, the Honus Wagner baseball card (one sold the other day for over $400,000). There are a handful of those that exist, though.

The buyer of the movie poster collects horror movie posters (Chaney played a vampire in the flick).

The 1932 movie poster for The Mummy had sold for $453,000 back in the mid-90s.

I collect jukeboxes and old radios, as well as movie and music memorabilia. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a collector of movie posters, I have about 50.

movie poster UTURNWhen the movie U-Turn came out in 1997, I ordered the movie poster that was released only in Europe. At the time, I had a thing for Jennifer Lopez (it was 1997, and she wasn’t so annoying yet). The poster, banned in America, had her sitting on the street, with her legs apart, and the yellow line in the street right down the middle. The movie got horrible reviews, but I’m sure the movie poster got two “thumbs” up from everyone.

When the movie There’s Something About Mary came out, I had to have the poster. It was such a well-written comedy, and the poster had the dog in bandages, and Cameron Diaz – with her hair going straight into the air. Yet when a movie theatre manager agreed to save the poster for me, I was shocked when I went to pick it up a month later. It was a different poster! Her hair was normal, straight down the sides of her face. At first, the manager wasn’t sure what happened, but then she remembered…there had been people complaining about the original poster being risqué, so the studio recalled them all and “fixed” her hair. I found that odd, considering it was an R-rated movie, so no kids would’ve seen it; therefore, they wouldn’t understand why her hair was going straight in the air.

I have a movie poster from Heaven Can Wait (the Warren Beatty version). I’m sure most people know Chris Rock did a remake, but probably don’t realize Beatty’s was also a remake of a 1943 picture. The poster I have is signed and inscribed by Buck Henry, the co-writer and co-star of the film (and one of Hollywood’s underrated talents).

I thought Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was good, but overrated. What I did love about the movie was the poster. The bottom half was Owen Wilson walking, the top half was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. My friend hated the poster, since Van Gogh and his time period, had nothing to do with the movie.

“Creative license,” I claimed.

That same friend has an original Return of the Jedi movie poster, from when they were originally going to call it Revenge of the Jedi. That’s worth a pretty penny, so I’m guessing he’ll never give it up. He was working at a movie theatre when the film was going to come out, and that’s how he got it.

I have a movie poster from one of my all-time favorite films – Some Like It Hot. It looks like it’s autographed by the entire cast, but when I met Tony Curtis, I made the mistake of telling him I was going to try to get Billy Wilder to sign it. He’s one of my favorite directors. He said, “You’ll never meet him. I’ll sign it for him.”

He then wrote his name on it, after autographing it above his picture. I was shocked. He added, “And Marilyn is dead. I’ll just write her name right here.”

He then signed the entire cast all over the poster. At the time, I was ticked. Yet now when it’s hanging in my office, I love the looks from people that think I have this classic poster signed by the entire cast.

A few of my other favorite comedies had horrible posters. Tootsie, just has Dustin Hoffman in drag, in front of the flag.

The World According to Garp has Robin Williams looking contemplatively up at the sky.

I always found it odd when the show Cribs would show a rappers house, and they’d have their own movie theatre in their mansions. Most of those also had a framed Scarface poster (cool poster, overrated movie).

One day when I was chatting with Reading Cinema manager Jennifer Deering in her office, I noticed the Saul Bass movie posters. She was a big fan. At the time, I knew little about him. He was born in 1920, and it wasn’t just movie posters he did. He created amazing title sequences. His most famous being Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm. It was about a jazz musician addicted to heroin.

Bass even did some iconic corporate logos, including the Bell System logo, AT&T’s globe logo, and a few airlines.

Martin Scorsese, being a huge fan, had him do title sequences for a handful of films in the early ‘90s. A lot of contemporary films pay homage to him (those would include Catch Me if You Can, the TV show Mad Men, and X-Men: First Class). He was furious when Spike Lee “borrowed” the Anatomy of a Murder poster design for Clockers.

I was in 8th grade when E.T. came out. I didn’t care much for the poster, but John Alvin, the guy who created – had an interesting history. He was hired to paint the poster for Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles. That would end up with him working 35 years in the business, and doing 135 movie posters (Blade Runner, Beauty and the Beast, and Gremlins, to name a few).

movie poster EXORCISTWe all thought The Exorcist was scary. For those that remember the movie poster – it was equally creepy.

Bill Gold designed it, and he was against using the image of the girl. The studio had suggested photos of her on the bed, or a door slightly ajar, with her smiling face inside. You think those would work great, until you see the final product. The priest standing outside the house at night. It was brilliant.

movie poster PULP FICTIONOne of the movie posters I loved, but isn’t in my collection (although the picture graces the soundtrack CD I have), is Pulp Fiction. Uma Thurman is on the bed…the classic femme fatale image with a cigarette in hand and gun by her side. To give it the look of one of those pulp fiction paperbacks, there’s a price tag, and creases around the sides.

movie poster MOONDavid Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones is a decent filmmaker (Source Code, Warcraft). His first film Moon will be the best he ever makes, and the poster for it was equally great. The poster felt like sci-fi from the past, and the circles and designs reminded me of the Vertigo poster. You see Sam Rockwell standing there, and it conveys the isolation of his character. Seeing his name, fading lighter and lighter, was cooler once you see the movie and what happens to his character.

It’s funny how if you had movie posters on your wall, it was usually when you were a kid. You may have had a Star Wars poster tacked to the wall when you were 10. At 16, maybe it was a movie poster with a sexy actress (for me, that was the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only).

movie poster FOR YOUR EYES

As an adult, if you’re still into movies and movie poster art – you frame a few posters and have them in your living room, with the entertainment system and faux movie theatre set-up.

Just as musicians have told me about album cover art – and how CDs are smaller and not paid as much attention to, studios now just use a series of photos.

Drew Struzan is the best movie poster artists ever (Back to the Future, The Thing, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back). I was thrilled to host a movie screening for his documentary. Hosting the Q&A with him at the Reading Gaslamp was a gas. One of the things we discussed (the entire interview is here: https://fox5sandiego.com/2013/07/22/drew-the-man-behind-the-poster-review-and-interview/), is how much we missed the old movie posters. He explained how it’s cheaper and easier for studios to just use photos of the actors and splice them all together.

Perhaps in a day and age when movie houses don’t just have one movie showing for an entire month…and the studio depended on a movie poster to draw you in (think about how Jaws poster must’ve just evoked so many scary images)…it’s just a different time in the industry.

I’m guessing most people don’t even glance at the poster as they walk to the box office to buy their tickets.

That’s a shame.

9 comments

  • bob pearl

    so you are saying there is a group that buys posters as i am about to go through a whole bunch i got at all the pre screenings from years ago i guess i could put them in alph and post it on crags just to see what happens

  • Charles Kaufman

    Bravo! Love the movie posters and thanks for recognizing the art. Great analysis. Great piece. Very few works of art are so representative of their times. Plus…..they are great fun. Thank you Fox and thank you Mr. Board.

    • Josh Board

      Well, I did become a fan of that basketball team after watching The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh! Nah, in all actuality, I think that rarely happens. It would have to be a biopic on a specific athlete (Gale Sayers/Brian Picallo, etc), before some kid became a fan of a team based on a movie. But boy, what a great film that was.

  • L. Nevarez

    Excellent article on movie posters. A true piece of Americana history. Thanks Josh! Now l am going to go through all of my movie posters to see if I find a treasure!

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