I didn’t really start going to the movies until I was about 12-13 years of age. I was fascinated by film, but only had a limited exposure. I would get around the ratings system by either waiting until films made it to TV (usually heavily edited), or by reading the books they were based on (which gave me an interesting reading list for a pre-teen, ranging from ‘Deliverance’ to Thackery’s ‘Barry Lyndon’), or as a last resort, simply reading the ‘Mad Magazine’ parody to get a gist of the plotlines. I also started following the Oscar presentations with great interest, and haven’t missed a telecast since 1972 (and yes, I know how cheesy and innaccurate the academy’s choices usually are, which is part of the fun).
But even more fascinating to me than the movies themselves, in many cases, were the elaborate posters that I would see in the lobby, advertising the ‘coming features’. I didn’t even realize at the time that I was witnessing the ‘power of illustration’, but they certainly did their job on me. Illustration seems to have largely disappeared in the world of movie advertising these days, and it is sorely missed.
I would spend long periods of time in the lobby, just staring at the fantastic scenes that awaited the lucky ticket holder. A lot of the times the poster would end up being better than the movie itself. I had a particular weakness for the ‘disaster genre’, since one of the first movies that I attended (without my parents) was ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, which had a big impact on me for several years afterwards.
I remember frequently being disappointed when a particular scene or image on the poster wouldn’t actually appear in the movie. I particularly remember one movie called ‘Frogs’ which showed an image of a large frog with a human hand sticking out of its mouth, and being very disappointed with the film because this never actually happened. Sort of like the old ‘freak show’ posters, how the fantastic imagery of the ‘come on’ would pale in comparison to the poor pathetic individual on display behind the curtain.
And sometimes the poster art would give you a ‘touch of class’. Frequently these would be drawn by Richard Amsel (as I would discover later doing research for this posting), who did such memorable posters as ‘The Sting’, ‘Lucky Lady’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Barry Lyndon’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘The Shootist’ and many many more. The ‘Sting’ poster below is obviously a homage to the famous illustrator JC Leyendecker.