Book Review
By Steve Fiorilla




The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan

Foreword by George Lucas

Running Press Book Publishers, $29.95

Hardcover, 120 pages

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    I perform the Lobby Dance of Mystification when witnessing one missed opportunity after another for artists capable of working in the field of motion picture poster art. “Why?” I ask, as movie poster design consistently fails to ‘Wow!’ me to my seat (fourth row from the screen, six seats in from the left, thank you). I’ve forever been a loon for the classic poster art of the twenties through the forties (check out the horror/sci-fi side of that in Ron Borst’s Graven Images), the fifties outrageousness of legendary poster pros Reynold Brown, Joseph Smith and Albert Kallis (profiled in an article by Stephen Rebello in Cinefantastique [the March, 1988 double issue, vol. 18, #2 and 3]), the shattered shapes and lettering of the Saul Bass sixties, and the early-seventies attempts to keep things exciting (Battle for the Planet of the Apes and the pulsing vein lettering of It’s Alive come to mind).

    Photography snapped it all away, but I naively hoped the inspired brush strokes would return in a future that deserved such work. I seriously suspected something stinky was going on when I stood before the one-sheet for Harry and the Hendersons on its opening day. A downright insipid design (sad ape eyes and a flower against a black background) had me scrunching up my face and wondering why I wasn’t studying the caricatured detail of a Jack (Mad) Davis watercolor of sheer mayhem — one of those massive stampede images (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) so imbedded in the collective memory of moviegoers. Could ‘lunch-doing’ retards at some dippy design firm have called the shots on this one, imagining that if it somehow became collectable it might end up hanging in kids bedrooms all across the land?
    The woodblock print feel to the poster for Streets of Fire was a bright spot in the eighties. It was glued to walls all over New York City in bright Day-Glo colors. I scored a purple one and kept it for years.
    A photo of a prop could work — as with the creepy old baby carriage up on a hill for Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. It’s a cinematic symbol of evil I still get a kick out of when it pops up in movie poster books. The nineties in a flash of nonbrilliance introduced photo group shots of teen actors with ‘Attitude’ stamped across their unknown mugs. A legion of smarmy bad-asses staring out at the viewer in one flick after another just daring us to part with the cash to see something we’d forget even before it was over.
    Fantasy artists Frank Frazetta (Fire and Ice) and Bill Stout (Wizards) haven’t been seen on theater lobby walls for years. Poster illustrator and TV Guide cover artist Richard Amsel died in the eighties from AIDS. Bob Peake (Apocalypse Now) is gone. Nothing in the past decade has engaged my senses other than the Disneyesque look of the poster for Madeline, and the clever design used for The Insider, made to resemble a cigarette pack. The poster art for The Majestic did well in attempting to recreate the painterly style of classic film portraiture, using a large image of Jim Carrey combined with a bit of montage. Other than these few memories, the field surely has suffered from a supreme lack of showmanship.
    Hailed by George Lucas as the messiah of the medium, Drew Struzan is technically efficient but fails to convince me that the drought is over. His first few poster assignments (Squirm and two Bert I. Gordon pics, Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants) were moody, eye-clutching odes to B-film advertising sensation. But the bulk of The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan tout the cast-posed style the artist is most known for. And viewing them one after another drains the novelty of his form.
    There are a few that stand out, however. His set of images for Return to Oz are solid and striking. A scene of robots peering through a window at sleeping Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy for Batteries Not Included is more in the line of book illustration and seems better suited as cover or interior art. Struzan’s Muppet movie work oddly brings those characters cheerfully alive. Tight Star Wars art, sharp Eddie Murphy poses, and way too many group headshot arrangements simply fall flat. Could Struzan’s work be just too perfect?
    Photowise, The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan goes the same posed route as much of the art. Photo portraits of him come off as personality shots — a well-heeled barefoot bohemian out to impress. Anyone interested in buying an art book usually cherishes shots of the artist’s studio, but none are offered here. Nor does the book seize the chance to display poster art in different stages of completion. Generally disappointing, fans of Struzan might want to wait for this book to show up on the overstock tables, or fork out the extra dough for Drew Struzan: Oeuvre by Jessie and Amy Horsting, a more comprehensive volume of his work.