Image Is Everything
The Jungle Book may have been the first film that I was ever taken to see at the cinema, but it was Live And Let Die that made the most impact in my childhood and the years that followed. Trips to “the pictures” were infrequent before I hit my teens and, for a brief stretch of time, we were settled in one place.
Before that, and certainly before the years living deep in the countryside, our hometowns simply didn’t have a cinema. Closest was further along the coast, where there was The Savoy (the respectable one) and The Royale (known to pretty much everyone as “The Fleapit”). Of course, with only one screen apiece there weren’t always kiddie-friendly movies on offer every week.
In the years that followed The Jungle Book (which must have either been re-released or seriously taken its own sweet time to make it out to the sticks) came the kind of decidedly average films that spilled out in the early 1970s. During that time the most memorable experiences were seeing Where Eagles Dare, which I was taken back to see a second time, along with, during one summer presumably, seeing Disney’s Pinocchio on a Sunday afternoon and The Poseidon Adventure the very next day. Then came James Bond.
It wasn’t just the thrills and spills that did it for me. Maybe it was because we had arrived early, or, since it was a new release we had to wait in a queue to get in. Whatever the reason, the delay meant that standing outside I got to take in the glory of Robert E. McGinnis’s artwork.
That’s pretty something for an eight-year-old standing in a queue under overcast skies. Artwork like that introduces you to a whole other world of possibilities.
At that age I had no comprehension of release dates. New films were simply advertised in the local papers and would invariably turn up. That was all that mattered. If I remember rightly, they would even mention, in a smaller point size naturally, what would be coming the week after as well.
Back then, before the proliferation of media or media-obsessed outlets, the poster was pretty much the chief advertisement for every upcoming film. The cinema foyers would line up posters for the forthcoming attractions, each vying for the audience’s time and attention. The posters sold the films.
In the years that followed I’d be entranced by the work of John Alvin, Drew Struzan, Richard Amsel and Bob Peak. Later on I would discover the poster art of the great Saul Bass, even though I already knew the name from numerous film title sequences (another thing I was starting to pay attention to).
Nowadays posters aren’t as interesting. They’re pictures of the stars, or artless composites of photographs put together by some little spud with a working knowledge of Photoshop. We know what the films are already about, so what’s the point?
One thing does puzzle me though. Back in the 1980s, when compact discs began to replace vinyl, CDs kept the original record cover art but just made it smaller. Obviously, given the credits striped in, film posters would need some form of adaptation when reduced in size. That said, I still can’t figure why so many DVD covers are just so spectacularly fucking awful, particularly when it comes to the studios’ back catalogues.
These were the films that actually had good poster art when they were originally released thirty, forty or fifty years ago. A couple of years ago 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment came up with their Studio Classics range, while last year Paramount released a series called Paramount Originals, which used original poster artwork for the DVD cover. Both series were devoid of extras, which perhaps points towards the problem.
With so many DVD special editions and ultimate editions and collector’s editions coming out in succession, each release obviously needed new artwork, much like authors’ novels being reprinted with new releases. With original film artwork varying with different international poster campaigns, surely they could find something better than letting some talentless cock-knob lose at the computer.
One of the worst examples has to be the two-disc Star Wars trilogy DVDs comprising of the original theatrical version – new to shiny disc – and the special editions from the late 1990s. Maybe the earlier special editions’ boxset used the posters familiar for each film for their individual covers. That still doesn’t go towards excusing the utter fucking abominations used for the two-disc release.
What kind of brainless cunt decided that it would be a really good idea to take the famous poster illustrated by Tom William Chantrell to promote Star Wars’ international release and reproduce it – badly – as a photo collage? A couple of months back I stood in HMV considering buying the two-disc DVDs of both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but ultimately rejected getting them because the covers were so goddamn awful.
Of course in the end it’s really the film that matters, which meant I also didn’t pick them up because they’re pretty much childish nonsense that I’m way too old for. The same can’t be said for Chinatown.
A bona fide masterpiece, I hadn’t bought Chinatown on DVD simply because for so long the only disc available featured the film and fuck all else. Now however, a Special Collector’s Edition has been released by Paramount Home Entertainment (UK) that includes three documentaries, in total close to an hour in their running time, featuring contributions from Roman Polanski, Robert Towne, Jack Nicholson and Robert Evans.
Unfortunately the earlier bog-standard disc had already used an adapted version of the original film poster. Which meant that something new had to be produced for the Special Collector’s Edition of Chinatown that would equal Jim Pearsall’s glorious original artwork. At least you’d think that’s what they would try to aim for given a film of such stature and wide regard.
So, how the merry hell did they end up with this?
Was the work assigned to a special needs class? It looks like someone ran a used tampon through the photocopier! If this was the best they could come up with, how utterly absymal were the other options?
More importantly, without any knowledge of the film in question, would that cover entice you to watch it?