Saturday, March 31, 2012

Film List - Cool Posters

I have mentioned on here before that in the small town where I grew up there was only one cinema, and only one film per week - to which most people would go on a Friday or a Saturday. My brother (seven years older than me) was friends with the son of the cinema owner, which not only gave him privileged advance information on the forthcoming programme but also occasionally offered the opportunity to purchase one of the posters that had been displayed in the foyer for a supposedly knockdown rate. Unfortunately, most of the posters really weren't all that impressive: they tended to have too much text and not enough picture, and so didn't seem to me to be something I'd want to look at on the bedroom wall for long (on our bedroom wall; I was sharing with the bro at the time). Moreover, poster design in the '60s and '70s seemed to be mostly very weak: I didn't generally like painted posters because the quality of the art was often so crude, and the imagery so cluttered. At least photo posters usually concentrated on a single still from the film, but even these were not usually very compelling.

Moreover, I was unconvinced that my brother's mate was really offering him such a good deal. I believe the sum usually quoted was either £15 or £20, which was a bloody fortune back in the early 1970s, especially for two schoolboys. Because of this stiff asking price, we would have been obliged to pool resources to buy one, and we were rarely all that tempted - or could rarely agree on a poster we both liked enough. And when we did get close to buying one, that came about more because of a morbid curiosity about the film in anticipation than because of the poster, which we hadn't yet seen. The film was a documentary about Great White Sharks called Blue Water, White Death (some years before Jaws made them universally scary/sexy). I could readily imagine having a shark poster on the wall: sharks were undoubtedly cool, in a mind-bogglingly terrifying way. Alas, when I saw the poster, I backed out of the deal. It was not this one.
If it had been this one, I think I would have agreed to buy it. I seem to be remember I'd been expecting something like this, but then the actual poster had far too much white space devoted to text, and a diver in a shark cage much more prominent in the photo than the shark.

My brother had been strangely keen to proceed with the purchase, and was deeply miffed at me for pulling out. And so, a year or two later, when I'd been bowled over by this poster for Norman Jewison's Rollerball (still one of the best posters I've ever seen, I think; although I of course felt disappointed, cheated, on discovering that James Caan didn't really have spikes on his helmet), he snottily declined to help me procure it.

I was also tempted by this poster for David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (a film I already knew of, even at the age of about 8 or 10, because I'd become smitten with the soundtrack, one of my favourite items in my parents' record collection), which enjoyed a major re-release at around this time. The brother, alas, was still obstinately refusing to cooperate, and there was no way I could afford such an expensive treat on my own.

And so, I got through my teen years without ever having a film poster on my wall. When I made it to university, though, it seemed de rigueur that all students should have at least one such poster (even though I would have very little space left, since I had already acquired a set of posters of characters/columnists from the satirical magazine Private Eye, photo portraits of elaborately grotesque 3-D statuettes crafted by the caricature artists Luck & Flaw, who had recently lent their skills to the great latex puppet TV satire show Spitting Image), and the Oxford Union held a poster sale at the beginning of each year.

As a young man, I was naturally drawn to strong loner types, men of power and violence, like Dirty Harry...

... or Mad Max...

... or Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

I might also have been tempted by the poster for Apocalypse Now...

... although I prefer this one of the helicopters silhouetted against a burning sunset, which I think only appeared rather later.

These, of course, were all enormously popular choices, and thus had invariably sold out within minutes of the sale starting; so, in two or three attempts over the course of my undergraduate career, I never managed to get hold of one of them.

What I ended up with instead was this classic still of silent screen comedy genius Harold Lloyd hanging precariously from the hands of a clockface hundreds of feet above the street in Safety Last. Not quite a film poster, but close enough.

In researching this post, I came across quite a few more that are worthy of consideration, but this is enough for now. I suspect I'll have one or two follow-ups on this theme later in the year.

Footnote:  Online film critic TC Candler has compiled a particularly good selection of posters, on which I may feel impelled to comment in more detail at a later date.


Tony said...

Your collection should have included at least one of these:

No folk-art is livelier than an Indian film poster, which characteristically includes a space rocket, a clutch of skyscrapers, a distant view of Kashmir, a group of skin-divers, a submarine, two or three Mercedes cars and a fattish young hero, centre front, who, while gazing moistly into the eyes of his beloved, seems to be searching her long black hair for nits.

from An Indian Journey by Jan Morris

Froog said...

An inspiring description indeed, Tony.

Bollywood posters are fun, but a bit too lurid and tumultuous to be something you'd want to live with for a long time, I think (not too dissimilar from the early '70s posters I mentioned at the beginning of the post, in fact).

Moreover, I was describing the experience of my early years, when the wonders of Bollywood were quite beyond my ken. I didn't get my introduction to the genre really until I started to fly transatlantic a lot in the mid-90s; at that time Air India almost invariably had the cheapest fare.