Viewing The Art of the Movie Poster at LACMA

When it comes to classic film not all the artistry is limited to the screen. Just as today, a flurry of marketing materials accompanied a movie release but, unlike today, most of it was hand painted by a range of artists. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the movie poster – a colorful, vibrant artwork that is just as exciting as the film itself. It’s a true art form that deserves much more recognition than it gets in the fine art community. Luckily, things are starting to change and recently LACMA opened the exhibition The Art of the Movie Poster: Highlights from the Mike Kaplan Collection.

I was lucky enough to be invited  to view the exhibit with the collection’s owner, Mike Kaplan. Kaplan, a producer, director and all around Hollywood Renaissance man, has been collecting film posters for over 35 years and firmly believes they are a true art form. His mission is to have the greater art world accept his point of view and he worked with LACMA to stage this show.

Each and every poster is a beautiful work of art but Orphans of the Storm is particularly special as it’s the only known remaining poster from the film. Released in 1921 and starring LIllian and Dorothy Gish as sisters caught up in the French Revolution it’s as dramatic as the poster indicates. This particular piece is special to Kaplan as he worked with Gish on her last film, The Whales of August.

The Big Idea, starring Ted Healy and The Three Stooges, may not be as significant a film as Orphans of the Storm but the poster is an early example of famed caricaturist, Al Hirschfield’s work. .At the time, American posters weren’t signed and many artists remain unknown. Thanks to Hirschfield’s distinct style this one’s easily traceable.

Isn’t that poster for Casablanca fantastic? Made for it’s 1947 French release it’s designed by noted poster artist Pierre Pigeot. In Europe, the artists signed their work unlike their American contemporaries. This one is a colorful, moody interpretation of the famed film and much brighter than the contemporary American pieces as Warner Bros. has already switched to plainer, two-toned images.

The Dawn Patrol, starring Errol Flynn, is a rare 3 sheet poster. These large posters consisted of three different pieces and were used as outdoor advertisements. Often pasted onto walls and fences they had very short life spans. This particular one came to Kaplan in a roundabout way and it’s amazing it’s in such wonderful condition.

I could seriously go on and on about the posters as they’re such beautiful works of art. If pressed to choose a favorite It would have to be Stagecoach.

Look at that movement! You can practically hear the horse hooves pounding on the ground. And that dramatic lighting with dawn breaking over the hill. Stagecoach is a moody film and this poster completely encapsulates its aura. It truly is a work of art.

The Art of the Movie Poster: Highlights from the Mike Kaplan Collection, though small, is a wonderful addition to LACMA’s current exhibitions. It’s on display through April 29 and will be immediately followed by a second exhibition featuring more pieces from Kaplan’s collection. I can’t wait to return to check them out.



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