The Death Of Poster Art
When I was a kid, opening the entertainment section of Friday's newspaper was one of the most exciting times of the week for me because that was the day that all the new movies opened up. I remember eagerly awaiting this day so I could see what new worlds I would be able to explore that weekend and I looked over the new posters with a giddy smile on my face. Even though the ads were small and in black and white, they still were more than enough to get me excited about what the movies were about and to tease me into getting my dad to take me to the theatre.
One of my first memories of poster art was when I went to see Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger. The movie and its stop motion creatures blew my young mind and I remember leaving the theatre and being transfixed by the poster in the lobby. Even when I look back on it today, it instantly brings to mind all of the scenes that I used to love so much. Many of the posters of the 60's/70's/and 80's employed the style that the Sinbad poster used. They consisted of a painted mural of the film or it's characters in some sort of action pose. Think back on some of your favorite old movies and you will find that the original Bond posters, Star Wars posters, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and many more used this tactic. Some posters used photographs to great effect instead but created a similar impact. Think of movies like Christine, Carrie, and Poltergeist. You get the idea.
Great poster art was also essential during the video revolution of the 80's. People would come up with all sorts of fancy ideas to get us to rent their movies and would all try to make their box unique. Some horror movies even employed other media in their artwork. Does anyone remember the old Frankenhooker box that exclaimed, "Wanna date"? How about The Dead Pit? I remember that one because the eyes of the cover zombie would flash in red when you pushed a button on the box. Sure these were gimmicky but they were also exciting. I used to love going to the video store and looking at all the covers. I still have a massive video collection and most of them have been acquired because they have cool covers.
Sometime in the 90's something went terribly wrong. I can't put my finger on exactly when this dreadful transition occurred (perhaps with the advent of computerized photo-manipulation programs) but the art of the poster is becoming a lost one. Gone are the days where we had a sense of what the movie was about or what we were in for. This has been replaced by the endless marketing of sexy girls and pretty boys in our celebrity obsessed culture. There is no more being teased by a pumpkin wielding a knife or a gang of zombie punks spray painting a tombstone. How about a shark rising from the depths towards an unsuspecting swimmer or a blue background with a parka-clad figure whose head is radiating bright white light? You instantly can picture the poster and the movie with a short description. The same cannot be said when you look in the paper today as everything looks like it could either be an ad for a movie, shoes, perfume, or any other product that needs a sexy face to sell it.
This new phenomena has taken away something from the movies. I am rarely inspired simply by a poster anymore and am more inclined to go see a movie from word of mouth or a whim nowadays. What is even more tragic is that the majority of the DVD re-releases of old movies are opting to go with lame covers that look like they were slapped together in Photoshop. This is a marketing tactic that I don't understand which is also causing me a major storage space issue as I now have to keep both the DVD and the VHS tape.
I wonder what ever happened to those unknown cover artists who have been able to attach the memory of an entire film to one single image. These guys were some of the most talented artists of all. There are still a few glimpses of hope (Detroit Rock City and Saw come to mind) but they are a rarity these days. I guess the kids now will never know what it was like to want to see a movie just because it looked like fun rather than which celebrity of the moment is in it. Until Hollywood gets out of it's creative rut and audiences stop eating up all the force fed product, creativity will likely continue to take a back seat and the days of memorable movies and their posters will be a thing of the past. -Josh Pasnak, 11/25/05