As a product of the 70’s and 80’s, the defining impressions I have of many of the really important movies of my childhood are all the product of one visionary madman…Mr. Drew Struzan.
Sit down kids, and let daddy tell you a story. A long time ago, there was a thrilling era of movie posters that (way before the banal simplicity of Photoshop strangled the creativity out of the process) was really innovative and beautiful. The 60’s and the 70’s were the groundbreaking eras for the field. The smaller, more niche related genres like horror, exploitation, and science fiction were the breeding ground for not only a handful of the obvious actors, writers, and directors, but also illustrators. That’s where Struzan was at the time, doing small one sheets for low budget movies like “Empire of the Ants”, and “Food of the Gods”. Fame and the force quickly came knocking on his door, asked by a friend to help out with the portraiture part of a poster he was doing, he immediately said yes, the movie was “Star Wars”, and it was a game changer for everyone involved. Riding the crest of that success, Struzan was prolific in the 70’s and 80’s moving on to create posters for just about every movie you loved (and Policy Academy too). I mean come on, Blade Runner, the Indiana Jones Trilogy, The Thing, Risky Business, Better Off Dead, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Harry f’n Potter, I could go on, I really could, it’s just beating a dead horse though; I get it, Drew, it’s an insane resume.
The magic of Drew’s work is that it intuitively captures the mood of a movie and it’s characters and conveys them without trying to appeal to a demographic. His work can be appreciated by anyone as a marketing tool or as simply what it is, an illustration…a really, really well done illustration. His success though, is reliant upon the fact that his greatest assets as an artist are his compositional skills. Struzan’s rendering is genius-don’t get me wrong, you can see how greasy Bobcat Goldthwait’s hair was, and how sweaty Harrison Ford’s furrowed brow is simply through the man’s painting prowess, but his use of color and composition to create a complexly simple visual that draws you in without getting lost in its labyrinth of elements is where the midichlorians are. This ability to intertwine so many disparate parts into one cohesive image that is both playful and narrative is what made him such a sought after artist. His ego does not permeate the product, but the product doesn’t overpower him. Once you’ve seen a Drew Struzan, you cannot unsee it, you will notice them everywhere.
Now I’m not some grumpy old man telling the kids to get off of my movie poster lawn, I appreciate what they are doing, I just think that there is a certain finesse that is lost when computer generated image is relied on, (though don’t ask me what I would do if there were a hand-painted poster for a PIxar movie…maybe my head would explode like “Scanners”) and a certain artistry that has been lost in this field in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never miss a movie if it happens to have a bad poster, but I sure will go see a movie if the poster can turn me around. How about you, what’s your favorite poster by Drew Struzan, or for any movie out there?
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Images: Lucasfilm, Universal, Cannon Films, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros.