Studio: Snowfort Pictures
Director: Kevin Burke
Writer: Kevin Burke
Producer: David Lawson, Andrea Butler, Richard Chan, Graham Lee, Kevin Burke
Stars: Joe Dante, David Byrd, Gary Pullin, Daniel Danger, Tom Whalen, William Stout, Roger Kastel, Susan Curran, Rob Jones, Mitch Putnam, Laurent Durieux
Illustrators and hobbyists chronicle the movie poster’s evolution from advertising device to alternative art collectible.
Presumptuous finger-waggers piping up to jump the gun with an “ahem!” take note, documentarian Kevin Burke is well aware that the standard size of a movie poster one-sheet is 27x41. That’s not the focus of his film. Living up to the fuller breadth of its subtitle and deriving its name from the common 2’x3’ dimensions of current alternative art, “24x36: A Movie About Movie Posters” is a complete chronicle of the medium’s ongoing evolution from studio advertising tool to cottage industry of contemporary collectibles.
Pick up your eyes if they rolled out in a glaze while yawning at numerical details above. Although “24x36” runs through a brief “Dragnet” just-the-facts on broad basics of poster sizes and lithography history lessons, the doc is not an OCD nerds-only treatise of tedium about fancy paper. It is, however, very much tuned to the niche appeal of the pop cult poster scene popularized by Mondo, Hero Complex, Gallery 1988, et al.
If those are new names with no significance to you, scale expectations accordingly. “24x36” can be an enjoyable indoctrination to the trend for the uninitiated. Just don’t count on it to bowl over casually interested laypeople who may be immune to the movie’s enthusiasm for the art form.
“24x36” does a lot of things well, starting with stories behind iconic artwork movie fans instantly recognize, yet may not know the names of the artists responsible. That “E.T.” image of touching fingers you can see in your mind’s eye without trying? Steven Spielberg wanted E.T. putting his finger to Elliott’s head, but that looked like a pointed gun. Painter John Alvin instead drew inspiration from nothing less than Michelangelo’s immortal Sistine Chapel ceiling. That “Gone with the Wind” echo on “The Empire Strikes Back?” Credit a personal request from George Lucas to illustrator Roger Kastel, who is still searching for his original “Jaws” painting 40+ years after the fact. (#findjaws)
“24x36” even dabbles in dollops of Hollywood gossip. If not for a feud with the film’s director, Robert Duvall’s head might be floating alongside Marlon Brando’s and Martin Sheen’s on “Apocalypse Now’s” one-sheet. Bob Peak originally painted it in. Francis Ford Coppola insisted Peak paint it out.
How did we go from the gorgeous brushwork of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to the commonplace template of Photoshopped movie star heads on blue and orange backgrounds? “24x36” connects a concise narrative about poster art that balances a lust for nostalgia with understanding changing business demands and public perceptions.
Former Anchor Bay marketing director Susan Curran puts a period on the debate by explaining the need for movie art to be easily digestible in an iPhone format. The intricacies of a Richard Amsel illustration have less of a practical place in this new “blink or you’ll miss it” world of online thumbnail browsing. And focus groups are so conditioned to accept recycled imagery that they can’t see an illustrated poster without presuming it is for an animated movie.
For the most part, interviewees graciously accept this reality. Instead of wallowing in melancholy, artists and independent galleries contribute to the peaceful grassroots revolt gradually bringing alternative art back to a front burner. Even in documenting the decline of the poster’s halcyon heyday, “24x36” shows respect for the medium in all forms, remaining optimistic that art will ultimately triumph above all else.
Among the movie’s minor drawbacks, there is a slight underrepresentation of notable names. Don’t misunderstand. In addition to postmortem coverage of often-unsung artists such as Albert Kallis and Reynold Brown, “24x36” boasts a big list of essential illustrators driving the current alt art wave. Gary Pullin, Laurent Durieux, Daniel Danger, Tom Whalen, and Phantom City Creative are only a handful of the top talents on hand to weigh in with insight and anecdotes.
Yet while there is no doubt director Kevin Burke exhausted every avenue to complete the participant list, I can’t help but be a bit greedy in wanting a celebration of poster art to include words from grandmaster Drew Struzan or modern heavy hitter Tyler Stout, for example. Especially when someone such as Stout features prominently in a segment focused on aftermarket inflation, where his pieces particularly balloon to insane values among collectors.
That’s a small chink in otherwise strong armor. The film’s only other dent worth noting is a short span of boredom when the back half rambles woozily through subjects like licensing as almost out of place afterthoughts. “24x36” dispels any notions of perfunctory padding though. The overall presentation is smoothly matted and framed with terrific animations genuinely complementing featured artwork. Burke kicks simplified PBS panning over static imagery to the curb in favor of eye-catching fluidity. Layers on Laurent Durieux’s “The Birds” come together in pieces to highlight detail and moving limbs or rippling waters subtly accent action points in a piece without disrespecting the original concept.
Even know-it-alls already neck deep in poster art as a hobby will come out of “24x36: A Movie about Movie Posters” more knowledgeable as well as entertained. “24x36” is neither stuffy about its seriousness nor flippant in its attitude. A diverse array of intelligent talking heads turns a seemingly simple subject into an absorbing story about how a Hollywood promotional channel continues to be an unexpected outlet for enthusiasts to engage with both filmdom and fellow fans.
Review Score: 85