Back in the eighties and nineties, I spent much of my youth in and out of video stores. During the weekends when there was a guarantee there’d be nothing on television we’d trek to the video store in our neighborhood and I always drifted to the horror section. One of the highlights of going through the horror section was perusing through the boxes and gaping in disbelief at all the amazing and often creative box art. Back then artists had to sell a movie with one striking image, and they often did it very well. The box art was only a small result of the art of movie posters, and how once upon a time movie posters were a symbol of a movie that were used to sell their respective cinematic properties, and create lasting memories.
For a long time the art of the movie poster has been much too unappreciated and often under appreciated. In a time where the art of movie posters are all but a dying form of expression left for collectors and hardcore movie buffs, “24×36” is an important documentary. Suffice to say, the movie poster has a long and wonderful history that began in the early period of filmmaking, Posters weren’t just used to promote movies, but general attractions, and they managed to evolve over time in to images that helped movie lovers identify certain movies. Often times they even summed up movies, better than the movies themselves. Who could forget the posters to “Alien,” “The Goonies,” “Monster Squad,” or “ET”? Who doesn’t remember the iconic imagery of Indiana Jones in the posters for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or the sign for “Jurassic Park”?
And who didn’t rush to see “Star Wars” when posters began popping up. Kevin Burke pays great tribute to the art form, exploring a vast and colorful history where studios hired very unique and creative artists to help promote some humongous films. What’s more interesting is the posters that ended up becoming even more famous than their respective films. Like a lot of facets of films, the art of the movie poster has dwindled with studios seeking more live imagery of their cast, rather than depending on creative art to bring in audiences. One of the telling instances is when we view a focus group trying to figure out which movie poster is best for an upcoming thriller: a pulpier one sheet, or a picture of the main actor with the slogan embedded along his face. The group chose the latter, much to the sadness of the producers.
Chalk it up to sophisticated new audiences, or a new generation that doesn’t appreciate the nuance of modern art. Either way, while “24×36” tends to be a celebration and fascinating history, it also ends up transforming in to a bittersweet look at a dying form of expression that’s barely hanging on. Director Kevin Burke offers a bright side with the medium of poster art and promotional art for film garnering a new generation of movie buffs and collectors appreciating vintage work, and companies that create genuine works of art, like Mondo. In the end, though, it still stings that the art of the experience of film has taken a back seat to a new generation that wants little left to the imagination. “24×36” is a remarkable and educational niche documentary that should be seen by any self respecting movie fanatic.