Movie Posters have always been an odd art form. Primarily designed to be advertising, posters have frequently gone on to have an iconic status, sometimes remembered even when the film they are advertising has long since been forgotten. During the Eighties one wonders how many students with Betty Blue posters on their walls – which was just about all of them – had actually bothered to see the film.
Emily King’s examination of the history of poster art takes a different tack to many books of this type. Taking a chronological approach that travels from the Birth of Cinema to the Age of the Blockbusters, King not only contextualises trends and artists through the history of film, but also through history of design. Her discussion of Saul Bass is particularly productive as it takes into account Bass’ working relationship with directors such as Hitchcock and Preminger, and his education in design at Brooklyn College. She points out: "Bass attempted to find a string graphic symbol that would act as a summary of the plot. He maintained the modernist belief that it is possible to strip away layers of complexity and arrive at a single visual essence," It makes a marked change from most coffee table books, which would be content to print the images and have the line "Saul Bass worked with Hitchcock."
Of course, much of the delight of this book comes from the multitude of poster images. All the usual suspects are there, from the exquisitely painted art-deco lines that make up Metropolis (1926) to the effortless cool and stark splash of blood that went into creating Reservoir Dogs (1992). You can happily while away the hours taking in all the posters – but King goes beyond this and looks at how other countries design posters for movies from around the world. Poland in particular comes in for focus, and with good reason. The re-designs for films such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), Taxi Driver (1976) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) are triumphs of artistic talent and beautiful design.
At £25, the book isn’t cheap (though it’s much cheaper than the Polish version of Vertigo (1958), which will currently set you back more than £1000), and it provides an intelligent and entertaining trawl through the history of an underappreciated medium. By the time you’ve finished, you may find yourself treating your posters with slightly more care.