Back in early 2012 we reviewed one of several books released on movie poster artist Drew Struzan, a useful and interesting resource called The Art of Drew Struzan, reviewed here. It chronicles the best of painted motion picture advertising one-sheets that Struzan created, and even more enlightening, includes commentary by Struzan about his process and the politics and business of his years of leading the craft. The picture he painted wasn’t pretty, but despite his own roadblocks he is generally thought of as the best motion picture poster artist of the last 50 years.
Along with Struzan, another poster artist created posters that often could be confused for Struzan’s. That was the late poster artist John Alvin. Unfortunately Alvin did not document his own personal account of his creative and professional experiences, but his wife Andrea has put together a book that at least documents his most popular work, released this month by Titan Books as The Art of John Alvin. What we don’t know from any of the books we’ve reviewed on poster artists is how they might have competed for work over the years. Andrea Alvin makes no mention of Struzan, but seems to indicate Alvin was able to keep a nice niche of clients over the years, ranging from the decision-makers behind the movies of Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and the renaissance of animated Disney blockbusters.
Alvin’s work seems far more commercial compared to the paintings of Struzan, as can be seen in Alvin’s posters for Empire of the Sun (1987), Cape Fear (1991), Batman Returns (1992), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), and Batman Forever (1995). But that doesn’t mean they were any less effective at drawing moviegoers to the theater, the entire point of the poster. The one-sheet for Empire of the Sun is often seen as one of the most memorable images in the history of movie posters.
The power of much of Alvin’s posters is the simplicity. In 1982 when the public first learned of a movie called E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, the only thing we knew was a newspaper ad showing a wrinkled alien hand touching the hand of a kid, inspired by Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. His teaser poster was equally as effective—never did these pictures show E.T. himself. Those same images were reproduced on movie posters, cardboard standees, and eventually all over picture books sold via school book orders. Simple images, but lasting images, and what they didn’t show was part of the enticement to reel in an audience.
But not all of Alvin’s work was the same. His in-your-face screaming Gene Wilder on the poster for 1974’s Young Frankenstein is one of his best works. Who can forget this imagery? Or that of Blazing Saddles (1974) and Spaceballs (1987)?
Alvin’s original poster for Blade Runner (1982) could easily be mistaken for a Struzan piece, as could his Willow (1988) poster. In The Art of John Alvin we get to see many other versions of the Blade Runner and other poster layouts that are far more artistic than the ones we all know the movies from now. Other movie posters Alvin created probably did a lot for films that otherwise might not have been seen throughout the 1980s, like Cocoon (1985), The Goonies (1985), Short Circuit (1986), The Golden Child (1986), and The Lost Boys (1987).
But his biggest impact must be his Disney posters, including Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), all reproduced millions of times on not only posters but on video cover art as well.
More fun can be found with the work that didn’t make it to posters, including many images for Jurassic Park (1993).
A good addition for the library of fans of popular films and poster art, The Art of John Alvin is available now here from Amazon.com.