I’ve waxed on at blathering length about my blessed childhood, growing up geek in the shadow of “Star Wars,” and how I feel so fortunate to have spent my formative years in movie theaters watching the work of a generation who spoke some secret nerd language that informed every moment in their own movies. Guys like Coppola, Lucas, Scorsese, Spielberg, Zemeckis, Dante, Carpenter, and Cronenberg, the filmmakers I called my own, people whose films led me to discover whole oceans of film that had come before them, that had influenced them and shaped the movies they made.
And one of the things that really made the era special was the power of the movie poster in those days. The poster was one of the most important parts of the theatrical release. Working in theaters in the ’80s, I saw over and over that people would show up at the theater without any idea what they were going to see, and they’d look at the posters and pick the one that looked the best. Time and again, I’d see them walk around a kiosk, checking out all eight of the posters we had up for our current releases, and stop with a sudden, “Oh, man, it’s Eddie Murphy!” or some similar lightning bolt moment. And they’d walk over to the box-office and say, “I’ll have one for Eddie Murphy.” And it was that basic. Sometimes it was the movie star. Sometimes it was the title, recognition of something that had been recommended or that had that great trailer or that starred that one person, and they’d see the title and it would jar the memory and they’d buy that ticket. It was always fascinating to watch people react to posters, and I loved picking which posters went up in the theater in our “coming soon” galleries. I’d give great placement to a memorable poster, even if I didn’t want to see the film, just out of respect to a great one-sheet. My room all through high school was wallpapered with movie posters, posters over posters over posters. I loved it.
As with my love of movies in general, I can peg my obsession with the art of the one-sheet to one event, one moment. I always enjoyed looking at movie posters as a sort of “Okay, what’s next,” but I never really went crazy over posters in general. I had up the “Star Wars” poster in my house because it was the “Star Wars” poster. But it was the first time I looked at a poster and I noticed a signature in the corner that was clearly legible: “drew.”
To have the guy who was designing the coolest posters for the coolest movies to be named “Drew” was, to my mind, the coolest news of all time. I didn’t know many Drews growing up, and this was a Drew I could respect, a Drew I could point at with pride and who was working on the exact sorts of things I wanted to work on. For years, I didn’t know anything about the guy beyond that first name, which appeared on poster after poster after poster. “drew.”
In the years since, I’ve had the chance to meet Drew Struzan, the artist behind so many of those amazing, indelible images that helped woo a generation into the theater for some of the biggest movies of all time, and I’ve seen some of his original work up close thanks to collectors who own the pieces. Now, thanks to Titan Books, you can study the process Struzan used to design and execute some of those iconic one-sheets, and you can read about his evolution in the industry all the way up to his recent retirement. In some ways, it’s a bit of a heartbreak, because Drew Struzan is still a vital, sharp, engaged artist, just as technically sharp as ever. It’s just that there’s no room in our industry for what he does, and that sort of sapped his will, as it were. The book features a forward by Frank Darabont and is written by Struzan with David J. Schow. This is a book you can tell was assembled by people who cared deeply about what they were publishing, and Schow has brought out the best in Struzan as he walks him through his own history, both distant and recent.
Today, here at HitFix, we’ve been given two images to premiere exclusively for you in advance of the book’s publication on September 14. First, how about a look at an early painting he did while trying to nail down the design for a little film called “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”…
… although to be fair, Struzan’s work is so good that even on terrible movies, I’m interested. Our other exclusive image today is an early design for a one-sheet for a movie that desperately, desperately wanted to be “Star Wars”…
… and look how awesome he makes that look! I would see that! And yet I know it is eye-gougingly bad.
I love the chapter in the book that details his work on “Waterworld.” It’s frustrating because he worked hard to create something iconic, and I think his final design is pretty amazing. At least four nights in a row after the book showed up, Toshi asked to read it at bedtime as his story, and he would have me explain what each poster was for. He was drawn to one of the “Waterworld” posters in particular, and informed me that I better get a copy of that, because he “needs it.” Impressive.
Here’s one of his warm-ups for that film:
And finally, here’s a pencil version of the “Back To The Future” 3 poster, and the amount of work that went into all three of the posters for that series is detailed here, and engrossing.. Check it out:
In short, if you have ever felt compelled to hunt down a copy of a particular movie poster and hang it in your home, this book is a must. Struzan mourns the death of the art form he mastered, and he’s right to be bitter. Movie posters these days are rarely stirring pieces of art created expressly to sell the film. Instead, they’re photoshop monstrosities, boring test-marketed conveyers of information, rote and forgettable.
But when you’re flipping through the pages of this book, at least for a little while, movie posters are something more. Contracts with the audience. Enticements. Beautiful in their own right, and unforgettable. Above all else, unforgettable.
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