Title: Drew: The Man Behind The Poster
Label: Altitude Film Entertainment
Release date: 16th February 2015
Video format: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1: English
Subtitles: English HOH
Runtime: 96 mins + extras
No. of discs: 1
Region Coding: Region 2
Rating: BBFC E for Exempt
Buy from: Amazon UK
Official Synopsis: You may not be readily aware of it, but it is very likely that Drew Struzan is an artist whose work you are intimately familiar with, as his portfolio contains some of the most iconic album and movie posters of all time. “Drew: The Man Behind The Poster” is told by some of the most respected artists, actors and filmmakers, about this unknown’s journey and craft, in creating some of the most well-known works throughout the world.
From his modest beginnings, through today, the film tracks the life and unique career of Drew, whose work and signature style are deeply appreciated by some of the biggest names in Hollywood including George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Jim Henson, Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro. Fellow artists such as Ken Black, Roger Kastel, Tim Bradstreet and Greg Hildebrant respect his mastery of the craft and ability to organically combine multiple techniques and produce human likenesses that are second to none. The “Star Wars,” “Back To The Future”, “Muppet”, and “Indiana Jones” films are just a few of his stand out creations.
Overcoming a myriad of obstacles, the artist continues to create, in hope of finding meaning and personal fulfillment in a life and career that, like any other, is filled with numerous peaks and valleys. And through this tale, the audience can discover why Drew Struzan may in fact be one of the most recognizable and influential artists of our time.
One of the unexpected side effects of the rise of the geek as a 21st century demographic, when coupled to the rise of high quality, low weight portable video kit, has been the proliferation of “talking heads” documentaries about subjects dear to geeks. Too often though these have been about each other, pointing the camera at themselves, which has value in cementing a community together but doesn’t inform or educate about things unknown to the public at large. Age has however made more urgent the need to make some attempts to contribute to the historical record; thankfully the makers of the 2010 Giger documentary got their work in the can before the great Swiss artist passed. Here, director Eric Sharkey turns the spotlight on an artist well known to movie fans, but not exactly a household name with the general public, despite the fact that they have almost all see his works: Drew Struzan.
Sticking to the tried-and-tested format of these sorts of docs – clips from famous interviewees bundled together as a pre-creds sequence, chronological run through built on Struzan’s words as a central thread, then opening it out to his celebrity fans, his wider geek fans, and then looking at his art beyond his paid work – you get a good, solid rundown of the man, his family, his life and career, and his works. You also get to see a lot of art that hasn’t been made public; the editions Guillermo Del Toro paid for out of his own pocket for his films (as the studios wouldn’t stump for them) are so good as to make you weep.
Several things of interest emerge from the film that stick in the mind afterwards. Firstly, the work Struzan is most famous for is, for all its quality and iconography, work for hire, what most would regard as purely work for hire, not art itself. Being trained in art pure, Struzan himself stands by this distinction throughout the doc until towards the end, where he recognises that the substantial body of commercial work he has made has touched so many people’s minds and hearts it deserves some sort of status above just craftsmanship.
Secondly, that status rests very much in the relationship his posters have to the films they were made for. The lost art of the movie poster – and let’s face it, it’s not lost, the studios just aren’t hiring the artists who did them – rests in the ability to capture the essence of the experience the audience can expect from the film in question. Struzan is among the best of those for precisely that reason – he repeatedly managed to encapsulate the film in a single image or collage of images. In fact, time and again, he would produce posters that promised much, much more than what the films themselves delivered. This is the art that elevates the craft; if the latter is applied to get the person who looks at the poster to spend their hard-earned cash on seeing the film, then the poster has done its job; but the best movie poster artists do much more, inspiring a better film in the head of that person than the movie itself.
That inspiration, that interaction is what lifts many of these works out of advertising into art, and the film makes this case convincingly. Film critic Leonard Maltin makes the point that when he thinks of Harrison Ford he does not think of a photo of the actor, what he actually looks like; his mind goes first to the iconic posters Struzan painted for the Indiana Jones movies, and it would be fair to say Maltin is not alone in this. When the painting has taken the place of the real person in the minds of millions, it is not simply down to having saturated the world with reproductions of the painting alone; something else has happened in the minds of those seeing the paintings, something transformative. That we cannot articulate it suggests, to this writer at least, that just maybe these paintings can qualify as that much-argued thing called art.
Video & Audio
As with a lot of these sorts of documentaries, modern HD cameras and portable audio/lighting kit mean that the quality is first-class, which is a good thing given the focus of the doc on Struzan’s artwork. The phrase “documentary-style” no longer applies these days when documentaries look this good and are this well composed. The music, a mix of cuts from various composers, is ambient and mood-appropriate, but not particularly ground-breaking or stand out. A blu-ray would almost certainly tighten up and improve on all areas, but a good upscaler makes excellent work of this DVD.
Longer versions of the interview clips used in the doc are included from those filmed with Guillermo Del Toro, Frank Darabont and Michael J. Fox. In addition, a half-hour chunk of the film’s panel at the 2013 San Diego Comic-con is also included, which serves as an effective piece on the making of the doc. Not a bad set of extras, if not necessarily a cut above.
The paradigm of this sort of documentary, director Eric Sharkey has produced the definitive piece on his subject. For those who cannot afford one of those luscious hardback books detailing Struzan’s life and works, this is the ideal alternative; for the dedicated fan it’s a no-brainer to pick this up. Now if this leads to docs on other great movie poster artists then that will be the icing on the cake for fans of this increasingly lost art.