Love me a good documentary now and then. I’ll watch a documentary about pretty much anything. True crime is always a favorite, and anything about movies, and especially any anything about horror and horror movies.
So when I stumbled across 24X36 I was pretty excited. I mean, a documentary about movie posters? Yes please. And it for a while it had my attention, all these vintage posters of classic movies, interviews with some of the surviving artists from back in the illustration poster days. Damn fine stuff. Lotsa thangs I didn’t know.
For example, the genesis for the movie poster is apparently lithography, Jules Chéret, and Belle Époque poster art—Moulin Rouge, Absinthe, that kinda thing. Who knew? The movie posters though, gasp and swoon. Just watching and hearing people talk about movie poster art is well worth the price of admission. Or rental. Or your subscription to some streaming service or something.
There is also a good amount of bemoaning what’s been made possible by marketing, big retail, and photo maniuplation. These are largely responsible for the preponderance of the soulless sameness of the “3 floating heads” posters, the half-shadowed faces, the big star’s mug (what Joe Dante referred to as “the curse of the star portrait”), and all the other godawful crap images tied to movies since the 90s.
And that’s when it happens. Right around a half hour in, we start getting smacked about the head by the siren song of the hipster as it drones forth from their mecca, Austin, Texas. Okay “siren song” isn’t a great analogy. I have no desire to stuff wax in people’s ears and have them lash me to a pole so’s I can hear any of this. But “siren whining” isn’t as, I dunno, satisfying in either an alliterative or metrical sense.
Now before anyone goes takin’ things all personal-like and shit, I know labels are lazy. And I don’t have a specific generational cohort in mind. Not all hipsters are millennials, for instance. Nor are all millennials hipsters. Hipster is as hipster does after all. But I digress.
Right. So a bunch of these guys, like many of us, became increasingly dissatisfied with the state of movie poster art and decided to do something about it. I have no problem with that. In fact, I have a good deal of admiration for adapting and changing the ways things were done before.
This is just what the folks at Mondo, Grey Matter Art, and Skuzzles ended up doing. If I’m honest, the only company of the 3 whose posters regularly do anything for me is Grey Matter. Their stuff is, admittedly, pretty damn cool as is Gary Pullin’s specifically no matter who he’s working for. I linked them so’s y’all could go check ’em out.
Anyway, like the cliché says, “Everything old is new again.” Or, if you’re down with the retro and one with the hipness, “Everything classic is rebranded as something we ‘rediscovered’ and made relevant again.” Y’know, like how irony was never a thing before the hipsters got a hold of it—a period I like to call pre-hipstoric.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I collect physical media fer fuxsakes. I have a VCR. Hell I even have a fully functioning manual typewriter. I just don’t lug it to the coffee shop so I can be precious about it. And alotta these guys are precious. And smug. And self-congratulatory.
Oh sure, some of the artwork for some of the DVD or Blu-ray reissues is kinda cool, I’ll give ’em that. But come on, lads. Are we rrreeeallly shakin’ things up in the industry? Is this stuff aaalll that revolutionary, or new, or even interesting? Aren’t we taking ourselves just a llliiittle seriously? Okay okay, not all the current creators are like that, but in terms of this documentary, the irritating dudes sure seem to stand out.
Incidentally, I keep referring to these guys and lads and dudes simply because there is precious little commentary by women in the field. The ones who do appear are decidedly not precious at all, and some of their work I actually like very much, especially Akiko Stehrenerger, and especially her posters for The Dead Don’t Die and Where The Wild Things Are. But most of the gents? Gah.
Ultimately, the most irritating part of the film had to do with image licensing. Turns out it can be difficult to create poster art depending on who owns what aspect of whomever’s name and/or image. When Gary Pullin was creating his ultracool Dr. Phibes poster for Mondo, he got permission to use the image directly from Price’s daughter. Never hurts, as they say, to ask. But then they trotted out this other guy, Tim Doyle.
He goes on this illogical rant about how the audience helps create the fervor around something that goes on to become an iconic part of the culture. We’ve created its value. His reasoning (which he tries and fails to support with some seriously flimsy pyramid analogy) is that this gives us all a stake in the product, so anyone should basically be able to do whatever they want with the image in question.
I’ve heard similar arguments made about copyrights, and to all of it I say “Balls,” or, in Clockwork Orange parlance, “Yarbles! Great, bolshy yarblockos to you.” Let’s say I create an image that goes on a poster, and bunch of people buy it, and the movie and its merch become wildly popular. The image I created is still mine. Because I created it.
So who exactly the fuck are you to come along and say, “Ooo, I like that. I’m gonna change it around a bit (but not so much as to be unidentifiable) and make money off this thing I didn’t actually make.” Yeah yeah, I know I’m grossly oversimplifying. I get, for instance, that the studio probably owns the image, but still. A better example, I suppose, would be the shit-ton of unlicensed Calvin & Hobbs stuff floatin’ around out there.
And I know there’s a little hypocrisy here in Castle Blogferatu as I myself play pretty fast & loose with images on this very site. I’m sure someone could hit me with a cease and desist any time now. I doubt that would happen. I would point out, for instance, that I’m not altering said images and selling them for my own gain.
The point is, I’m a pretty small fish. I don’t make a dime writing this blog with the possible exception of folks what buy a copy of Candy & Rigor Mortis Vol. 2: Post Mortem, available now.
I really suck at self-promotion.
(coulda been 12 or 13; had to dock the rating 6 hipper-than-thou skulls)
Streaming- Kanopy, Pluto, Tubi, YouTube
Rent- Alamo On Demand, Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, Vudu