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Selling the Movie by Ian Haydn Smith

‘The art of the film poster’ is the subtitle of this book and it is the word art which sets the theme for the whole book. On one hand it is a chronological dip into the whole history of film posters, on the other it is a quick skip through a century of changing artistic taste and the different way we promote movies.

I’m a great lover of poster art and I have a huge book called ‘Graphic Art’ that charts a century of sales art. This book is like a subset of that, with a focus only on cinema. These days we don’t need the poster in the same way as we once did. We have websites, video clips and social media to promote the movies we want to see. Go back a century and newspapers were all in black and white with few photographs. But if you look at photos or paintings of cities from the Victorian era onwards, you will see walls plastered with advertisements for every kind of product. That style of advertising was the genesis of the film poster.

Just a few days ago, in London, a blocked off wall was opened in Notting Hill underground station that had been sealed sixty years ago. The walls inside were covered in posters, bright and fresh, for all manner of films. It was a snapshot of tastes and changing preferences.

Selling the Movie is a large format hardback that works its way, decade by decade, from 1910s to 2000s, through a range of styles and case studies. In lots of short features, it covers the films of various directors, major stars, different countries, specific designers and movie styles from film noir to Bollywood. Best of all it is very global, so it is not totally dominated by Hollywood. At the end of each section there are a couple of pages with ‘Posters of the Decade’, picking the very best from around the world.

I particularly like the pages where there are alternative designs – some show several posters used for the same film, while others have a alternatives from different countries, which I think say more about the country than the films themselves. For example, two Polish film posters for American films, ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and ‘Vertigo’, have almost no link to the original film adverts and hint more at a bleak period in Polish history. I also like the way we have gone from design driven to photograph and more recently back to design again in the drive to grab your attention. Star portraits have changed from paintings and designs to photographs and back again. Many of the names of these films will be familiar, but what may be a surprise is how their original promotion poster looked. Best of all, I challenge you not to be reminded of a film you once went to see at the cinema.

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Allen & Unwin, RRP $55