Thursday, August 10, 2017

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

Year 9, Day 222 - 8/10/17 - Movie #2,711

BEFORE: I've basically got one rule when it comes to taking recommendations for the Movie Year, and that's "nope".  I program this thing, based on what movies I want to watch, or ones that I discover on my own schedule, or in desperate cases, because I really need a link from one movie to the other. The more someone pushes a movie on to me, the less I want to see it, generally speaking of course.  But I remembered that last year, I think it was at New York Comic-Con, someone came to our booth and mentioned this film, and that stuck with me, being a fan of all things "Star Wars", even down to the posters.  Now I don't know if the person who mentioned the film was connected to it somehow, in a way that's beside the point - but when I was working out the linking for Geek Week I was going through the filmographies of some actors and directors, you know, the ones that have been popping up all week, it seems, I stumbled on this title and I figured I had to work it in somehow.  Even if that means dropping an animated film down the line, or moving a vampire film from this October to next year.

And the connections were there - Harry Jay Knowles is interviewed here, so that's three films in a row for him, but at least two actors also carry over from "Raiders! The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made".  Other interview subjects recur from films seen earlier this week, and I've got like three connections to tomorrow's film as I start to wind down the geek-related documentaries.


THE PLOT: A documentary on legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan.

AFTER: I watched this one on iTunes, sitting in my upstairs office that just happens to be something of an unintentional shrine to Drew Struzan - behind me I have the three posters that he designed for the "Star Wars" special editions, hanging as a triptych of course, and on the opposite wall are his posters for the prequels, Episodes 1-3.  And just to my left is the Star Wars bookshelf, with all the books I've read, even the ones that are no longer canon - half of those probably have Struzan art on their covers, too, like "The Truce at Bakura" and "Darksaber" and "The Crystal Star", among many others.

God, what I do is so simple here, I just copy and paste someone else's poster art right into my blog post, like that doesn't even mean anything.  Let's face it, I'm a complete fraud, what have I ever created in this world that could possibly even come close to being called art?  This guy is so super-talented, and yet so unassuming at the same time, so generous with his talent, so willing to explain his process, and yet nobody else seems like they can make a poster even half as good, what's up with that?

And it's a dying art, too, which says something about our culture, like the way we collectively can't support locally owned bookstores or hardware stores that aren't big chains, or buy enough newspapers to keep them from being bought up by foreign conglomerates.  Yet nobody's paying attention to what's being lost along the way, as we Crush some more Candy on our phones and kill a few more brain cells every time we watch an episode of "Big Brother" or "The Bachelor".  People used to take pride in their work, like making movie posters that were iconic representations of films, not just push a few buttons on a computer and photoshop random images of a movie's star's heads onto some stock footage bodies.  Remember that flap over the first "Spider-Man: Homecoming" poster?  It looked like it was designed by an 11-year old while sitting in detention!  And every character was on there twice, which meant there were twice as many people on the poster than there needed to be.

What an astonishing career - the very first "Star Wars" poster that there ever was, which came to be known as the "circus" poster, because it looked torn and had fake wood grain running down the side, as if it was an old circus poster that had been hanging on a wall for a while.  Now, it turns out that Drew's collaborator on that poster forgot that they needed to save room for the credits block, so they had to shrink the image and add something on the bottom and the left side so there would be room for the actors' names.  From such happy accidents, a career was born.  Struzan became one of Lucas' favorite artists, and that led to making the posters for all of the "Indiana Jones" films, and all the book covers for the novels featuring THAT character, too.  He probably painted Harrison Ford, as one character or another, at least 100 times - and there's a great moment in this film where he finally meets Harrison, for the first time, and Harrison is so grateful for the work that Struzan did, and the way he was depicted in all of those iconic posters.

I'm tempted to just post a bunch of Struzan's art here instead of a formal review, just to point out how widespread his work was in the 1970's and 80's.  ALL of the posters for the Muppet films, because Jim Henson took a liking to his work also.  The posters for the "Police Academy" films, even though his art style was probably WAY to grand for those silly comedies - yet Struzan claims his poster for "Police Academy 3" is one of his favorites.  There's just no way that those could be as important as, say, his work on the "Star Wars" postage stamps.  But what about "Back to the Future", since he designed that classic poster, too?  Or "Big Trouble in Little China", "E.T.", "The Shawshank Redemption"...the list goes on and on, since he made over 160 movie posters in about 30 years.

Again, I can go on and on here, and I'm not sure where to stop - the Harry-freakin-Potter movies, he made those posters, too.  "Hook" and "The Thing" and "The Goonies" and "Johnny Dangerously" - even when his artwork wasn't used in a movie's official campaign, like with "Blade Runner" or "Hellboy", the director still tended to order a limited run of such a cool poster, even if it was just to give out to select fans.

I like that this documentary is full of film professionals who are like me - a little older, a lot grumpier and all claiming that it's a damn shame that things aren't done the way they used to be.  And kudos to Drew Struzan, who figured out that the way to get treated well at San Diego Comic-Con is to avoid the place entirely for 20 or 30 years, so that when you finally do show up to sign posters or books, they'll give you a freakin' award.  Well-played, Mr. Struzan. (He was given the Inkpot Award in 2010, which means part of this was filmed at the same Con where Morgan Spurlock filmed his doc.  Seems that was a banner year for films crews in San Diego.)

But this is also worth watching for the story of the (un-named here) business partner who stole many many posters from Drew, who always had an excuse for why Drew wasn't getting back his originals.  How Drew managed to get the original pieces back is a story that will make you believe again in a funny thing called karma, or that what comes around, goes around.

Also starring Drew Struzan, Harrison Ford (also carrying over from "Raiders!"), Steven Spielberg (ditto), George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Thomas Jane (ditto), Steve Guttenberg (last seen in "3 Men and a Little Lady"), Frank Darabont, Leonard Maltin (last seen in "Anarchy"), Bob Gale, Greg Hildebrandt, Joanna Cassidy (last seen in "Vampire in Brooklyn"), Alice Cooper, Carroll Spinney, Sam Witwer.

RATING: 6 out of 10 record album covers

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