- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rudy Franchi walked into Los Angeles’ Arclight Cinemas recently and gazed at the array of movie posters lining its walls.

The celebrated theater gives someone like Mr. Franchi, a memorabilia evaluator who offers advice on film posters at www.posterappraisal.com, a chance to take the pulse of the modern poster era.

Mr. Franchi, who also serves as an appraiser on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” came away unimpressed.

Just like the movies they represent, movie posters divide and delight film lovers.

Fans can pony up for their favorite posters, framing them with care for a splashy bit of home decor. Some argue over a poster’s merits on their Web sites, like this address: http://samsmyth.blogspot.com/2006/12/top-five-2006-movie-posters_05.html.

Others, such as www.posterwire.com offer a running photo blog of the latest poster achievements.

The poster for this month’s George Clooney drama “The Good German” is a homage to the iconic advertisement for “Casablanca.”

To Mr. Franchi, the golden age of Hollywood’s poster came not during the 1940s but in the silent era.

“Some of the most beautiful posters are for films which are no more,” he says, adding that movie ads were often created via stone lithography.

“After that, you have to go to the 1950s and the great horror and science fiction films, like ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ [for great poster art]” he says.

Mr. Franchi says movie posters changed for the worse during the 1990s when ego clashes took precedence. A film’s stars had to be listed in just the right order to please everyone involved, notes Mr. Franchi, who once served as a press agent at 20th Century Fox.

Even the size of a star’s face had to be perfect to make the deal work, he says. Big-head posters were “pervasive” in the ‘90s.

“They had to design a poster with a contract in front of them,” he says. “They got away from that now.”

Bruce Hershenson, president of emovieposters.com based in West Plains, Miss., says the bulk of movie posters created during Hollywood’s formative years came out of teamwork.

“They mostly worked together. One would do the roughs, one would do the titles,” Mr. Hershenson says.

Sometimes, a studio would call in a solo artist to handle a special project, he adds, noting heavyweights like Bob Peak (“In Like Flint,” “Camelot”) and Saul Bass (“Vertigo,” “The Man with the Golden Arm”).

In some ways, the film industry’s approach to posters hasn’t changed dramatically. If a film lacks star power, the studio’s creative squad must work overtime.

“Some of the least remembered movies had the best images,” Mr. Hershenson says.

The poster for 1954’s “Creature From the Black Lagoon” comes to Mr. Hershenson’s mind, even though the film isn’t considered a rival to monster classics such as “Frankenstein” or “Dracula.”

The image of the monster holding the girl “has been copied a thousand times,” Mr. Hershenson says.

For studios large and small, a movie poster constitutes a chance for cast and crew to work together.

Stephanie Allen, executive vice president of creative advertising and new media with Fox Searchlight, says her studio often lets the filmmakers and actors collaborate with its in-house creative team on the posters.

“The challenge is trying to hold to a clear vision,” says Miss Allen, who considers her studio’s poster for 2004’s “Kinsey” a “great solve for a period movie.”

Occasionally, her studio will run a few potential posters past the general public for feedback, but test marketing isn’t part of the poster creation process.

Miss Allen says most film posters, whether out of her studio or its competition, deal with photographic images.

Such imagery speaks to our celebrity-obsessed culture, Miss Allen says.

A rare exception came in 2004 with the film “Sideways,” which featured a simple, but bold illustration championed by the film’s director, Alexander Payne.

“It was high concept and very interpretive of what the film was about,” Miss Allen says.

Mr. Hershenson says movie posters are enjoying a rebirth of sorts.

The teaser poster, typically an image with little or no text, helps whet the fans’ appetites for genre pictures like the “Batman” or “Spider-Man” franchises.

Mr. Franchi says such teasers aren’t subjected to contractual agreement and, therefore, can be more creatively packaged.

Miss Allen also thinks the movie poster is enjoying a creative comeback.

“For a while, posters were really boring,” she says. “I think they’ve gotten more interesting, overall, again.”

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