The best of the new documentary on the life and career of Drew Struzan is not what you might think. You’d expect Drew—The Man Behind the Poster, now available on video and digital release, to include images of the best of Struzan’s stylized movie posters. What you might not know is the variety of artwork he produced before and after his two decades of poster work. He’s well known for unique designs and more than 150 memorable movie posters that defined the movies for audiences before they stepped into the theaters, creating his last movie poster before retiring in 2008 for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Probably his best work includes a six-poster series for the two Star Wars trilogies, which begs the question: Can Disney get Struzan to come back from retirement for the next three films? Will Disney understand the nostalgia factor? In recent weeks Struzan seems open to the idea, but seems to be waiting for Disney to call. Unfortunately Episode VII plans came after the documentary so you won’t find answers to those questions in the film.
For the most part Drew—The Man Behind the Poster is a straightforward success story about a struggling and very amiable artist that found his audience. You won’t see an abundance of critical awards coming for the filmmaking–it’s something like an episode from the old Biography channel with Peter Graves. But it’s worth watching for the explanations behind his process for the most well-known posters, including the Muppet movies and the quickly designed yet successful poster for John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Rightly so, the documentary spends extra time talking about the creation of the famous 1978 re-release style D “circus” poster for the original Star Wars movie, explaining the reason behind its poster-within-a-poster image. And where we get to see some celebrities praising Struzan for making the stars look better, including everyone from Steve Guttenberg to Michael J. Fox to Harrison Ford, most of these people had never met Struzan, and comment from afar as fans like any of us would. What could have been an interesting encounter as Struzan meets Ford for the first time while the documentary was in production, falls flat a bit simply because it seems Ford was caught off-guard, and never seems to get excited about anything in his interviews.
More interesting is the time spent on Struzan’s early work, such as his album cover art, including the against-type design for Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare album in 1975. At the end of the documentary we get to see Struzan flip through some very elaborate and amazing studio works of fine art—not tied to any production or corporate project. These works reveal a side of Struzan held back from his years of popular art, yet virtually no time is spent with him talking us through the details behind even a few of these. Which audience was neglected the most: Those who would have loved his fine art or those who now miss his commercial art?
Drew—The Man Behind the Poster only seems to skim the surface on Struzan’s methods and what makes him tick, going not that far beyond the great The Art of Drew Struzan book, reviewed here at borg.com previously. The film is a celebration of painted art over digitally rendered art, a review of a bygone era and slightly bitter view of the progress and impact of changing art media over time, and a review of some of the best work from a creator with his own unique style of popular art. Perhaps in the future another filmmaker will take a look at Struzan again through an artist’s eye and delve even deeper.
Drew—The Man Behind the Poster is available on streaming Netflix and on DVD here at Amazon.com.