Tuesday, 29 December 2015

A documentary about the movie poster artist Drew Struzan made for perfect Christmas TV viewing. What a craftsman!

Self-portrait, Drew Struzan
To be honest, I'd never heard of Drew Struzan when I set Sky Arts' Drew: The Man Behind the Poster to record last week. We watched it en famille on Christmas Day,  in a pleasant post-Church, post-lunch, post-presents fog late in the afternoon and couldn't find anything on the schedules even vaguely worth watching. We were utterly transfixed. Not because Struzan is some flamboyant, coke-deranged Hollywood wild man - he seems to be an extremely nice, quiet chap married to the same very nice woman since forever - but because it's always fascinating to watch an immensely talented craftsman at work: the insights into his technique - especially his pencil-craft - were particularly rivetting. Here's the trailer for the documentary - which makes me want to see it again:

I've always loved film posters. At university, I had the ones for Clockwork Orange, Death in Venice, Klute and For a Few Dollars More on my walls, but forsook the habit of buying and displaying them during the best part of a decade spent living in other people's flats. Once, in  New York, I could have bought a small, original portrait-shaped poster for White Heat, but it cost $300, which seemed a lot at the time - but I've always regretted not buying it.

Struzan's work post-dated my enthusiasm for poster art: he began in 1975, producing posters for some 150 films over the next three-and-a-bit decades. He has now retired, because film studios are no longer willing to pay for hand-crafted artwork, preferring to let untalented monkeys photoshop pictures of the main stars. A terrible pity, because, as the documentary demonstrates, there's nothing quite like a painted poster for capturing the essence of a film with startling, pulse-quickening immediacy, thereby making you want to see it. And there are some things that Photoshop just can't do, like the superbly atmospheric masterpiece which Struzan created for The Thing (1982) without a single visual prompt from the film itself - all he had to go on was a brief phone call and his memory of the original 1951 classic. Photoshop that.

Struzan's work is an example of what the philosopher R.G. Collingwood termed Art as Magic, the purpose of which is to encourage certain behaviours, as opposed to High Art or Art as Entertainment, which don't serve any specific purpose. The poster for The Thing is designed to make people want to go and see the film: the primary purpose of the actual film is to be enjoyed. Unlike the makers of the films advertised by the following selection of posters, Struzan - generally considered the greatest of what may prove to be the last generation of poster artists - made every film look alluring, no matter how terrible it actually was. He evidently had the knack of capturing the essence of a film - or, at least, the essence of the film the director should have made. No wonder he enjoyed such a successful career.

If you enjoyed this brief look at Drew Struzan's work, you might also like this post about my favourite paperback artist, Sam Peffer. If you get a chance to see the Struzan documentary, grab it - you won't be disappointed. Drew Struzan's website can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. Edgar Allen Potpourri9 January 2016 at 12:01

    How delightful to see the name of Oxford's RG Collingwood mentioned.

    The immensely learned Prof Collingwood's petulant dismissal of Spengler's Magnum Opus, The Decline of the West, revealed powerful emotional resentment.