All art means to tell a story, but the movie poster is art that means to sell a story. Once thought of as nothing more than disposable tools for marketing, movie posters have now become fanatically sought-after collector’s items. I myself am not unaffected by the collection bug. In fact, my idea of interior design begins and ends with how many movie posters I can plaster on my walls.
Kevin Burke’s 24X36: A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIE POSTERS starts out as an examination of the art form’s history. Through interviews with artists and experts, we learn just how important and influential the medium has been to pop culture as a whole. These pieces usually provide our first impressions of films, becoming part of the experience and informing our final opinions. The poster becomes inextricably linked to the movie they’re advertising. It’s impossible to think of something like JAWS without picturing the iconic image of the swimmer being stalked below by a gigantic great white.
Movie poster artists have traditionally gone uncredited and underappreciated, so it’s great to see some attention being thrown their way by this documentary. They really are some of the untold stars of the industry, and it’s about time they got their due. We also learn about the early 90’s stylistic shift away from illustrations to floating celebrity heads – you know, the ones with poorly photoshopped pictures of Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner looking dramatic? Would anyone really want to hang a modern film poster on their wall instead of something like the one for the original STAR WARS?
Just as computers devastated the landscape of practical special effects, they did the same to illustrated poster art. Technology made it temptingly easy to slap together a poster in a few minutes using photos and filters and the click of a mouse. 24X36 looks at things from both sides of the argument, but makes a far more compelling case for why this shift is a bad thing. I wish I could force movie advertising execs to watch this documentary, and if they still wanted to use that awful photoshopped artwork, I’d choke them to death by ramming rolled up posters for THE GOONIES, THE THING, and BLADE RUNNER down their throats.
The documentary switches gears part way through to examine the scene that’s popped up in protest against the industry’s preference for lazy and cheap promo art. Starting out as a t-shirt division of Alamo Drafthouse in 2004, poster company Mondo now has a wheelhouse of illustrators who create original printed artwork for classic films. The majority of the remaining runtime of 24X36 is devoted to covering how Mondo creates their prints, along with discussing the collector’s market and the legalities of how they license properties from the film studios.
This is where the documentary drops the ball somewhat. It strays dangerously into infomercial territory, as artists and collectors extol the virtues of Mondo’s product. There’s not much in the way of opposing view, and as an exploration of the topic it feels superficial; it doesn’t go into enough depth on the human side. Why are these people so enthusiastic, and why is it such a lucrative business beyond just being cool and collectible? The limitations of the subject as a feature length documentary show strongest during this stretch of the runtime.
But then along comes artist Tim Doyle to save the day, explaining that not everyone is in the poster art scene for the right reason, instead exploiting the market for unreasonable monetary gain. He also give a particularly poignant analogy for fandom and fan ownership, and that’s what 24X36 is about at it’s heart. Aside from Doyle, many of the interviewees are informative and entertaining – especially David Byrd who manages to be the film’s most colorful character. There’s a lot of knowledge and passion for the subject here.
Even though the interviewees are interesting to listen to, 24X36 won’t appeal to everyone. Movie posters are a niche topic, but if you’re like me and appreciate them more than the average movie-goer, it’s definitely worth your time. With that said, I do wish they’d focused more on the history of the medium, but that’s probably my bias for the classics showing.
24X36: A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIE POSTERS will be the opening film for BITS and will be premiering on Friday, November 25 at 7:00pm.