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Monday, March 08, 2010

Greenbriar's Movie Poster Week

Martin Scorsese addresses himself to Ten Essential Movie Posters in the latest issue of GQ, that article being excerpted from a new coffee table book entitled Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood. He speaks of one-sheets with reverence. They are art. Transporting, in fact. The book was compiled by Ira Resnick. For him, posters are also commerce. Resnick is among longtime dealers who saw value in memorabilia early and gathered a collection that would be impossible to duplicate short of investing a million dollars. Would a sane person begin accumulating original posters today? Not unless he’s very rich. I’ve known collecting eccentrics having died in apparent poverty whose shabby digs proved to be treasure vaults of priceless paper. Had they but known, you say, but I was acquainted with several that chose lobby cards over food and clothing. Stone lithographs for some have many times the addictive embrace of heroin. Scorsese’s right for celebrating the beauty of movie posters. They captured his imagination early on as surely as they did mine. The difference is he still collects. I pried that monkey off my back about seven years ago. Poster collecting is quicksand for obsessive-compulsives, which may-haps I’m one. Rest assured if you buy a single poster, you’ll want more ... way beyond enough just to decorate a household. There are collectors who could bedeck every office in the Chrysler Building and still have inventory to canvass the Empire State. Still, we all who love movies began our courtships in the lobby. It’s what was out front that first engaged us. Images on the screen merely finalized the deal. How many buffs remember posters better than films they advertise? Nothing about going to see 101 Dalmatians in 1961 sticks with me quite so much as the one-sheet I gazed at walking in …

I’ve exulted over theatre ads before. Well and good enough these served, but newspapers were there for anyone to clip and hoard. I knew that at age five when I began scrapbooks of TV schedules and theatre promos. What they displayed at the Liberty, however, was in frames under glass. Poster images pulsated with color too, even when movies did not. I noted reds and greens in lobby cards for B/W feature The Shaggy Dog and wondered how such transformation was achieved, not being aware of the simplicity of tinting. Colonel Forehand festooned the Liberty’s entryway with displays of all sizes. Many were backlit in freestanding casement. I stood and regarded an illuminated King Kong vs. Godzilla insert (14 X 36 sized) for seeming hours, counting down days to when the film would arrive. Did final consummation a week later fulfill hopes I’d pinned to a rolled sheet of advertising paper? Posters had a way of building anticipation to a fever pitch. There was a 40 X 60 frame upstairs in the Liberty that briefly housed a Thunderball display. Approaching it was not unlike being brought before a Rembrandt hanging. Is it safe to say that a child’s first exposure to art comes via movie posters? Mine was. No wonder they’re so collectable.

Certain ones left deepest impressions. I had bought the Dell comic for Masque Of The Red Death and waited a customary eternity for the movie to make its way to us. The Liberty’s one-sheet facing Main Street made those weeks torturous. Here was an oversized rendition of Vincent Price’s impassive features (Stare Into This Face), which upon closer inspection revealed infinite variety of unwholesome and licentious activity. Men stretched on the rack and whipped with a spiked ball dangling on a chain, human sacrifice, and best of all, Price’s nose morphed into Jane Asher’s taut backside, that last being a breath-taker surely among crown jewels of artist Reynold Brown’s gallery. Given choice of favorite painter at age ten, I’d have named Brown hands-down had only I’d known of him. He was childhood’s Rembrandt for a lot of filmgoers lucky enough to have seen 50’s and 60’s horror/sci-fi first-run.

I developed nerve enough finally to ask Col. Forehand if he’d part with some favorites, not realizing that most had to go back to National Screen. The pressbooks were disposable, however, and covers looked like mini-posters, so I was thrilled when he began letting me take these home. It wasn’t long before my bedroom looked like the publicity department at American-International. I even hacked up carpet samples to mount on corkboard for displays I could change out weekly for my imaginary engagements. One memorable night found me sleepwalking into the den where parents found me next day fitfully asleep. The explanation was simple, of course. Rest disturbed by the horrors with which I’d surrounded myself had caused me to somnambulate to zones of safety elsewhere. Those decorative monsters would have to come down.

The standee above stood at the Liberty’s entrance on Saturday mornings. I found it among discarded inventory years later and restored a somewhat battered frame. Often as not a source of frustration in those days, Late Shows Only were host to a number of features I wanted desperately to see but could not. They were bonus attractions unspooled but once. I wonder now at the practicality of hauling prints up from Charlotte for such one-shots, but this was a 60’s era when the Liberty might offer three movies on a given Saturday, all for that single day. Posters displayed for Late Shows were always 14 X 36 insert- sized. Each teased mercilessly for the fact I’d see none first-run. Disconcerting yet is the sight of these images: Devil Doll, The Unearthly Stranger, The Last Man On Earth, Voyage To The End Of The Universe, and perhaps most frustrating of all, a 1965 return engagement of Invaders From Mars.

Certain posters summed up the experience of moviegoing when I was most impressionable. The sight of them still brings a smile. El Dorado was a super-western I saw twice new. It was The Big One With The Big Two. Maybe Paramount’s campaign made me prefer El Dorado over more celebrated Rio Bravo, and continues to do so since. Certainly its posters were better. Do these influence our opinion of a film? Much of what aforementioned American-International peddled was little to crow about, but crow they did at selling, and masterfully so. There was fabulous art on posters Columbia designed for The Professionals, and all three of Sergio Leone’s Eastwood Dollar westerns boasted super imagery. I’m betting that when age robs us of short-term memory, we’ll at least maintain imprints these left. Then there were those less distinguished that yet delivered goods. Why does the Tickle Me one-sheet linger? (remnants of 1965 crush Jocelyn Lane maybe?), and how to account for the Liberty’s elegant Khartoum one-sheet (Direct From Its Reserved Seat Presentation --- Continuous Performances! Popular Prices!) when that 1966 spectacular wound up playing our Saturday combo with Paramount’s risible horror, The Vulture? By age fifteen, I’d walk past displays and barely notice posters. Had they stopped being interesting, or was it just me no longer interested? Collecting that got seriously underway shunned everything post-1965, coincidentally a drop-off point for most Greenbriar postings. What I didn’t recognize then was addictive hazards peculiar to poster gathering, and how excess of same could make a Fred C. Dobbs of whatever moth ventured too near its flame. Part Two will venture into grim competition that was memorabilia collecting during years I engaged it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most vividly I recall the billboard b&w poster plastered high-up on the side of the Liberty Theater of a cracked baby doll's head floating in darkness, its dead glass eyes staring down onto all who approached along Main Street... WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

6:35 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson sends along memories of movie posters he's found:

As much as I enjoy old posters -- I've pillaged Greenbriar for many of my screensaver images at work -- my actual collection is limited to two:

One, a handsome horizontal poster for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which unfortunately reveals the secret of the movie's Lock Ness Monster. Found in a Minnesota bookstore heavy on Sherlockania, it hangs in my home office.

The other is one of those vertical half-width deals (I never quite mastered the formal language) for a Disney film called Legend of Lobo. Never saw the film, but it powerfully evokes the experience of going to the Grenada Theater in rural Morgan Hill on a dusty summer day. We'd see an almost-TV-grade Woody Woodpecker, the Intermission cartoon with the rocket to the snack planets, and a second-string "family" film or two (If it wasn't Disney it was generally Universal, full of TV faces. One was actually a pasteup of a short-lived "Tammy" sitcom). Afterwards we'd come out of the theater into blinding sunlight, a peculiar sensation even now. It's printed in orange and black, features two small inset images -- a photo of two wolves facing off and an unconvincing drawing of a mama wolf surrounded by cubs -- and promises the talents of Rex Allen and the Sons of the Pioneers. That one covers a good strip of a cubicle wall at work.

I found it at Disney World ages ago. Their newly-opened movie studio theme park had a memorabilia shop, a reproduction of a vintage California bungalow packed with genuine if overpriced curios and piles of reasonable Disney posters -- it looked like they emptied a warehouse full of 60s stock, mostly the sub-classics. I later kicked myself for not grabbing one of the "we play Mickey and his friends" one-sheets, even if it was on the bland side (like many of their feature re-release posters). A few years later I revisited and they had more typical autograph show stuff and more typical Disney prices.

I think I'd crave posters more if I had a lobbylike setting for them. Like M&Ms in cardboard boxes, they can't be fully appreciated outside of the proper movie environment.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Great posters!

5:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! You were able to articulate why I collect lobby cards. I combine that hobby with another; hunting down old movie locations. I have a lot of fun one week out of the year matching lobby cards and screen grabs with the actual settings where movies (mostly old westerns) were filmed.

I too visited "Sid Caheuga's" at Disney World awhile back and came out with reasonably priced lobby card sets of 'Son of Flubber' and 'One Little Indian'. Sadly you are correct about "Sid's" going downhill. Today they sell overpriced autographs and junk that may or may not have come out of one of Cher's attics.

Can't wait for Part2!

Mike D

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it

12:54 PM  
Blogger Dugan said...

Great post, but you mentioned you preferred El Dorado over Rio Bravo. That might be the subject of another post.

I worked at a company with the son of the legendary science fiction illustrator John Berkey, who did the posters for the De Laurentiis King Kong(which was the only cool thing about that movie), The Towering Inferno and lots of iconic original Star Wars illustrations for the first film. He had an amazing career

4:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

One of these days I do plan on a Rio Bravo vs. El Dorado post. Just have to get in a right mood for it.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always love seeing Reynold Brown's name being thrown around. It is absolutely impossible to give that man too much credit. (Same goes for Robert McGinnis.)

I'm at a loss as to which I prefer — Brown's AIP horror stuff or his U-I Western and sci-fi work. It's all so good.

That Masque Of The Red Death is easily one of his best.

12:36 PM  

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