Have movie posters become so generic that they have lost their artistic edge?
PUBLISHED: 17:09 30 November 2017
Film posters were once regarded as great works of modern art. Today they are simply inter-changable marketing tools. Arts editor Andrew Clarke mourns the passing of an evocative aspect of being a film fan.
There was a time when movie posters were more than marketing tools – they were pieces of great modern art. There was a reason that posters for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Gone With The Wind, Anatomy of a Murder, Vertigo, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark have adorned many students bedroom over the years – they are limited edition masterpieces created by great artists.
In some cases, the posters were better than the film themselves – particularly in the 1950s B Picture era. How could the film of Attack of the 50ft Woman or The Creature From The Black Lagoon ever match-up to the allure or promise of two stunning pieces of poster art.
The same applies to some main features. Marilyn Monroe’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hasn’t lasted as well as some of her other movies but the poster remains a piece of era-defining greatness.
So why this sudden nostalgia for classic movie advertising material? A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster online for a new TV show called The Deuce starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s set in Times Square, New York, in the early 70s and the producers have come up with a spectacular retro-film poster to promote the series.
The poster does what all the great posters of the past used to do, provide a visual snap-shot of the feature itself, and give the potential viewer a taste of the atmosphere and what the story is about. It also provided a powerful illustration of the fact that modern movie posters aren’t half as arresting or as informative as they used to be.
There is no way that a photoshopped cut-out head of Tom Cruise or a cut-out of Jennifer Aniston in a quirky pose could be considered great art but from the early days of cinema to the early 1980s, posters were taken very seriously indeed.
Even as late as the 1970s and 1980s the poster was an integral part of a film’s image. It was unique and distinctive. Each film was treated as a one off. Today films tend to be part of a brand – particularly in this era of competing superhero universes, sequels and star vehicles.
Today all the Star Wars film posters have to have a uniform look. Back in the 1970s/80s, the posters for the first three classic films were wildly divergent but they all proclaimed the Star Wars message and gave a sense of the different feel each film had.
Films like Blade Runner, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, were defined by their posters and are rightly considered genuine works of art. The other characteristic all film posters had up until the mid 1980s was that they were all painted or were shaped by a graphic designer.
Saul Bass had a huge influence on the industry his posters for Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder and The Shining remain shining beacons of poster art.
So what has gone wrong? If the creation of movie posters was so important and so highly regarded why is the modern movie poster so bland and inter-changable?
It’s the way that movies are made and sold today. It’s all about being part of a brand or a genre. Also, billing and the control of your image has never been so important in Hollywood.
The big studios want to communicate an instant message. They are selling types of film rather than individual stories. Film A: is an action thriller. So you have the heads of the two stars (usually men) cut-out, looking away from one another, sometimes half in shadow, set against a billowing fireball with an inset picture of a crashing aircraft or out of control sports car. Then Film B: is a female-friendly romantic comedy, which is slightly edgy, so the main stars are cut-out and set against a white background wearing either wedding gowns or expensive-casual fashion and they’ll be wearing ‘comic’ expressions and/or smiling. The lettering of the title will either be pink or edged in pink and there may well be champagne bottles or glasses featured.
An artist has come nowhere near either of these two genre posters. They have been constructed by a marketing committee, been subjected to at least two focus groups and are entirely interchangable with any number of similar movies. Just the faces and titles change.
So what of the future? I predict interactive clips and trailers and rather like Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report these may be tailored to your viewing habits. “Hello Mr Clarke or may I call you Andy? Did you enjoy your last visit...check out these new movies which you will also enjoy...” It will be at this point that I will be arrested for criminal damage. Sadly, I fear we have seen the last of the movie poster as a genuine piece of art and we are the worse for it.