Book recommendation: The Art of John Alvin

15.09.14

You may not have heard of John Alvin but there’s no question that you will have seen at least one of the iconic pieces of movie art which he created over the course of almost 35 years. Starting with the posters for Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, John would go on to work with many of Hollywood’s top directors and producers, with memorable campaigns created for the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and the Walt Disney animation studio. Whether it’s the iconic image of E.T. and Eliot’s finger touching over a background of stars, the moody artwork for Blade Runner that ended up being used around the globe or the beautiful paintings created for films like Beauty and the Beast, John Alvin’s contribution to the magic of cinema cannot be underestimated.

TheArtofJohnAlvin_book_ cover

The artist sadly passed away suddenly in 2008 but now a new book entitled The Art of John Alvin has been released after four years of preparation by his wife (of 37 years) and studio partner Andrea. An absolute must-own for any fan of film posters and the art of cinema, the book features almost all of John’s most notable campaigns which are each given their own section. As well as images of the printed poster, there are also early sketches, painted concepts and pictures of the original artwork itself, plus Andrea has provided fascinating commentary detailing the creation of each piece.

The section on John's poster for Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise, which had to be altered before release due to some legal issues.

The section on John’s poster for Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, which had to be altered before release due to some legal issues.

There are many fascinating tidbits throughout the book, including how the Lost Boys one sheet was assembled from multiple different photos with painting used to make it seem like it was a group shot. Andrea also details how John used his daughter Farah’s hand as the model for Eliot’s on the E.T. poster and how John’s art was instrumental in selling the new generation of Disney animated films (starting with Beauty and the Beast) to adults as well as children. Some of the more fascinating sections are those for poster campaigns that never made it past the concept stage, including some for Return of the Jedi, Batman (1989) and Godfather III.

Two pages of the Blade Runner section featuring original graphite sketches on the right and a more recent illustration on the left.

Two pages of the Blade Runner section featuring original graphite sketches on the right and a more recent illustration on the left.

I can’t recommend the book highly enough and hopefully some of these photos will persuade you that it belongs on your bookshelf! It’s available from Amazon UK and Amazon US and other bookshops too.

To see the John Alvin posters in the Film on Paper collection click here.

A Batman concept that was fully painted but abandoned by the studio in favour of the logo design.

A Batman concept that was fully painted but abandoned by the studio in favour of the logo design.

A few of the many poster concepts John Alvin created for Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Many of the ideas are brilliant in their own right.

A few of the many poster concepts John Alvin created for Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Many of the ideas are brilliant in their own right.

Concept artwork for The Little Mermaid, one of several Disney films that John's artwork helped to promote around the globe.

Concept artwork for The Little Mermaid, one of several Disney films that John’s artwork helped to promote around the globe.

The book also features non-cinema artworks, including these for the VHS release of the original Star Wars trilogy.

The book also features non-cinema artworks, including these for the VHS release of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Blade Runner / one sheet / NSS version / USA

15.09.14

Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster
Title
Blade Runner
AKA
Blade Runner - Metropolis 2020 (Finland)
Year of Film
1982
Director
Ridley Scott
Starring
Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah
Origin of Film
USA | Hong Kong
Genre(s) of Film
Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Type of Poster
One sheet
Style of Poster
NSS
Origin of Poster
USA
Year of Poster
1982
Designer
Intralink Film Graphic Design
Artist
John Alvin
Size (inches)
27" x 41"
SS or DS
SS
NSS #
820007
Tagline
Man Has Made His Match... Now It's His Problem

One of my top five films of all time, Blade Runner was released with easily one of the most iconic sci-fi one sheets ever printed. The design and artwork is by the late, great John Alvin, a man responsible for several of the most memorable film posters of the past 40 years. This is perhaps his most well known piece since it featured on posters across the globe, was reused for the 1992 Director’s cut release and has been on the cover of home video releases for many years.

In August 2014 a book entitled The Art of John Alvin was released after four years of preparation by his wife and studio partner Andrea. An absolute must-own for any fan of film posters and the art of cinema, the book features almost all of John’s most memorable posters which are each given their own section. As well as images of the printed poster, there are also early sketches, painted concepts and pictures of the original artwork itself, plus Andrea has provided fascinating commentary detailing the creation of each piece.

Blade Runner is given six pages and the section features a look at the original graphite sketches done by Alvin to show to Ridley Scott and the studio’s marketing department. Elements of these were then combined to create the painting we know today. Andrea notes that the posters for the film were originally conceived to focus on the relationship with the characters and the futuristic city, but by the time of release Harrison Ford was a global star so Alvin was asked to make him more prominent in the artwork.

John apparently always regretted not featuring Rutger Hauer’s android Roy Batty so when he was asked to revisit the design for a 25th anniversary print he reworked several elements, including the two portraits of Harrison Ford and Sean Young and added the face of Roy Batty looming large over them. The print was called ‘I’ve Seen Things’ by John and can be viewed here.

There are known reprints of this poster and this particular version is one of three known variants. LAMP has a guide to all three here. To summarise:

Variation 1 – NSS Version
This version has NOTHING in the bottom left corner; Litho in U.S.A. (AND) the NSS tag in the center; BLADE RUNNER 820007 in the bottom right

Variation 2 – Studio Version
This variation has “PRINTED IN U.S.A.” in the bottom left corner; NOTHING in the center; and “NSS 820007″ in the bottom right.

Variation 3 – Odd NSS Version
In the bottom left corner has “PRINTED IN U.S.A.”; in the center ‘IN SMALLER PRINT’ has “LITHO IN U.S.A.” (AND) the NSS tag; In the bottom right has “BLADE RUNNER NSS 820007″ in ‘UNEVEN’ print.

This is the first variation (NSS version) but I also have the ‘Odd NSS Version’, which can be viewed here. A dealer in London once told me he believes all NSS versions of this poster are reprints/restrikes. If this is the case then the poster has fooled both respected dealers and collectors alike.

The Evil That Men Do / quad / UK

12.09.14

Poster Poster Poster Poster
Title
The Evil That Men Do
AKA
Liquidator (West Germany) | L'enfer de la violence [The Hell of violence] (France)
Year of Film
1984
Director
J. Lee Thompson
Starring
Charles Bronson, Theresa Saldana, Joseph Maher, José Ferrer, René Enríquez, John Glover, Raymond St. Jacques, Antoinette Bower, Enrique Lucero
Origin of Film
Mexico | USA | UK
Genre(s) of Film
Action | Drama | Thriller
Type of Poster
Quad
Style of Poster
--
Origin of Poster
UK
Year of Poster
1984
Designer
Eric Pulford
Artist
Eric Pulford
Size (inches)
29 15/16" x 39 11/16"
SS or DS
SS
Tagline
Bronson's out to stop...

An excellent portrait of action legend Charles Bronson by Eric Pulford features on this British quad for the 1984 thriller The Evil That Men Do. One of several collaborations between the star and director J. Lee Thompson, the film sees Bronson star as a retired hitman known as Holland who is living a relaxed life on a West Indies Island when he is approached by former associates who persuade him to take on one last job. The target is the sadistic torturer, Dr. Clement Molloch, a Welshman who is often hired by political regimes to help them keep dissidents in check and has consequently left a trail of enemies in his wake.

Holland discovers that Molloch has killed his old friend Jorge Hidalgo at the behest of the Surinamese regime and he agrees to set off to Guatemala, the last known location of his target, with Hidalgo’s wife and daughter agreeing to pose as his family to protect his cover. Holland uses his old skills to take out various criminal associates as he works his way up the chain to exact revenge against Molloch. The film was released to weak reviews and it’s definitely not Bronson’s finest hour, or the best collaboration with J Lee Thompson.

As Sim Branaghan notes in his must-own book British Film Posters: An Illustrated History, Eric Pulford was one of the most important figures in the history of UK film marketing. Born in Leeds in 1915, Pulford was encouraged to develop his drawing abilities at school before he left, aged 14, to join a firm that manufactured electrical goods where he designed light fittings. After a year he left there to take up an apprenticeship at Gilchrists, a blockmakers in Leeds city centre, whilst also attending evening classes at Leeds Art College and painting in his spare time.

It was during his time at Gilchrists that Eric’s skills were spotted by Leslie Whitchurch, a partner in design firm who had an arrangement with the British film company Rank to produce film posters for Leeds cinemas. Pulford began working on illustrations for the posters around 1940 and eventually left Gilchrists to join Format (Whitchurch’s agency) in 1943. The most important move happened in 1943 when Pulford was invited by Rank to relocate to London and set up a design agency to specifically handle their marketing, which saw the birth of Pulford Publicity.

Over the next decade Eric designed and illustrated hundreds of posters for British and Hollywood films, and this meant him working with many of the most important producers and directors in the industry. As Downtons, the parent company to Pulford Publicity, grew Eric started to illustrate less and take on more of an executive role, dealing with clients and liaising with distributors but he still managed to keep his hand in designing posters, including for some of Rank’s most important film properties like the Carry On series.

Eventually he took over Downtons completely in 1965 and this is when he hired designers like Vic Fair and John Stockle who would often submit competing concepts for film campaigns that were then sifted and selected by the client. Pulford also hired a number of young artists that included Brian Bysouth and would often give them his own take on how to achieve the best illustration results. Eventually, at the start of the 1980s, Eric began to plan for his retirement and began handing over the reins of Downtons to a new management team before eventually moving to the south coast in 1984.

This quad for The Evil That Men Do marks a milestone as it’s the last printed quad that was both designed and illustrated by Pulford, but other design and layout jobs followed over the next few years. His last assignment was, rather aptly, The Last Emperor in 1987 after which he started to enjoy his retirement fully. In 2005 Pulford passed away shortly after suffering a fall at his home, just shy of his ninetieth birthday. Sim notes that Pulford is believed to have designed at least 500 posters over a 50 year period for some of the best British films and his contribution to the field cannot be underestimated.

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus / B2 / Japan

10.09.14

Poster Poster Poster Poster
Title
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus
AKA
Gojira tai Megagirasu: Jî shômetsu sakusen (Japan - original title)
Year of Film
2000
Director
Masaaki Tezuka
Starring
Misato Tanaka, Shôsuke Tanihara, Masatô Ibu, Yuriko Hoshi, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Kôichi Ueda, Kôichi Yamadera, Yûsaku Yara, Kôji Katô, Tsutomu Kitagawa, Minoru Watanabe
Origin of Film
Japan
Genre(s) of Film
Action | Horror | Sci-Fi
Type of Poster
B2
Style of Poster
artwork
Origin of Poster
Japan
Year of Poster
2000
Designer
Unknown
Artist
Noriyoshi Ohrai
Size (inches)
20 6/16" x 28 13/16"
SS or DS
SS
Tagline
--

This is the B2 poster for the Japanese release of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus which was the 24th film in the long-running franchise featuring the King of the Kaiju (giant monsters). The film was also the second release in the third generation of Godzilla films (known as the Millennium Series), which are all standalone (with the exception of Godzilla: Tokyo SOS) and were mooted as ‘alternative universe’ stories. It ended up as the least financially successful film in the Millennium series, with the special effects director Kenji Suzuki apparently taking the blame. Referencing the first film, the story sets up a universe in Godzilla attacks the first Japanese nuclear power plant in 1966 which led to the formation of a section of the Japanese Self Defence Force called G-Graspers, dedicated to fighting Godzilla.

After nuclear energy is replaced by ‘plasma energy’ in 1996 it is hoped that the kaiju will no longer attack Japanese cities in search of nuclear energy, but the plan fails and plasma energy is also eventually outlawed. Later in 2001 an experimental satellite weapon called the Dimension Tide is fired and opens up a wormhole through which a prehistoric dragonfly appears, lays an egg and disappears back through the wormhole. A young boy discovers the egg and takes it with him when he moves to Tokyo, but when the egg starts oozing a strange liquid the boy throws it into the sewers. The egg is actually hundreds of smaller eggs which start to grow on contact with water and evolve into large dragonfly larvae which soon hatch and become adult Meganulon.

When Godzilla attacks Tokyo once more, the dragonflies are attracted to his energy and engage him in battle, but they are no match for the kaiju’s power and are almost all obliterated. Those that survive return to the sewers and, with an amount of energy taken from Godzilla, they inject a large cocoon that hatches as Megaguirus, queen of the Meganulon, and she immediately heads towards Godzilla, ready for an epic showdown.

The artwork on this poster is by Noriyoshi Ohrai, my favourite Japanese artist and certainly in my top five greatest film poster illustrators of all time. He’s responsible for a number of other posters in the Godzilla franchise, some of which can be seen here. He also worked on a number of Star Wars related posters, including this lovely 1982 B2 to celebrate the release of the Japanese dubbed version of the original film. In March 2014 a retrospective exhibition was held in Japan of Ohrai’s work and I made the trip over to Miyazaki to see the exhibition. I’m very glad I did as it featured most of his original artwork and a whole array of posters and book covers. A full report will follow soon.

The posters I’ve managed to collect by Noriyoshi Ohrai can be seen by clicking here.

Winged Devils / one sheet / international

08.09.14

Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster
Title
Winged Devils
AKA
Forza G (Italy - original title)
Year of Film
1972
Director
Duccio Tessari
Starring
Riccardo Salvino, Pino Colizzi, Mico Cundari, Giancarlo Prete, Ernesto Colli, Esmeralda Ruspoli
Origin of Film
Italy
Genre(s) of Film
Action | Comedy | Sport
Type of Poster
One sheet
Style of Poster
--
Origin of Poster
International (USA)
Year of Poster
1973
Designer
Unknown
Artist
Robert McGinnis
SS or DS
SS

A striking, garishly-coloured design on this international one sheet (printed in the US for English-speaking territories) for the little-seen Italian film Winged Devils (originally titled Forza G). Helmed by screenwriter (of films like For a Few Dollars More) turned director Duccio Tessari, the film follows the exploits of a young pilot who wants to join the Italian air force’s acrobatic stunt team and must prove himself worthy to join the ranks of the ace pilots. As can be inferred from this poster, the story also concentrates on his life on the ground, although McGinnis’ skill at painting leggy beauties probably oversells that part of the plot. The film wasn’t, as far as I can tell, released in American or British cinemas and it appears to have never been released on home video anywhere. There are no reviews for the film on IMDb, which is very unusual.

Robert McGinnis was responsible for some of the most iconic James Bond posters, including Thunderball,  The Man With the Golden Gun and Diamonds are Forever as well as multiple other classic posters from the 60s, 70s and 80s. He was born in Cincinatti, Ohio in 1926 and was given an apprenticeship at Walt Disney studios before studying fine art at Ohio State University. After serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II, he started work in the advertising industry and later moved into painting book jackets for several notable authors, as well as editorial artwork for the likes of Good Housekeeping, TIME and The Saturday Evening Post. McGinnis’ first film poster was the now iconic one sheet for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, painted in 1962, and he went on to paint over 40 others during his career, including one for The Incredibles in 2004.

To see the other posters I’ve collected that were painted by McGinnis click here.

Apocalypse Now Redux / B1 / Japan

04.09.14

Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster
Title
Apocalypse Now Redux
AKA
Apocalypse Now (original release)
Year of Film
2001 (1979 original release)
Director
Francis Ford Coppola
Starring
Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, G.D. Spradlin, Jerry Ziesmer, Scott Glenn, Bo Byers, James Keane
Origin of Film
USA
Genre(s) of Film
War
Type of Poster
B1
Style of Poster
--
Origin of Poster
Japan
Year of Poster
2001
Designer
Unknown
Artist
--
Size (inches)
28 12/16" x 40 9/16"
SS or DS
DS
Tagline
--

This is the Japanese B1 poster for the 2001 re-release of arguably the best war film ever made, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. This release, known as ‘Redux’ was a new version prepared by the director and his editor and long-time collaborator Walter Murch that saw almost 50 minutes inserted back into the film with several sequences extended and the flow of the film altered as a result. Set during America’s war in Vietnam, the film follows Martin Sheen‘s US Army Army and special forces veteran Benjamin Willard as he journeys up the dangerous Nung River and deeper into the jungle in the search of the rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando in an unforgettable role). Willard is told that an insane Kurtz has gathered together an army of indigenous fighters inside neutral Cambodia and that he must ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’. After landing at the mouth of the river in a spectacular sequence in which Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) first attacks an enemy village from helicopters whilst blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from loudspeakers, then orders some of his men to surf despite the fact that mortar shells continue to land all around them, Willard  joins the crew of a Navy PBR boat that transports him on his fateful journey up river.

Apocalypse Now is famous for its fraught production in which the shoot went over time and over budget, sets were destroyed by storms, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack and other woes that caused Coppola to famously say, “We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane”, and “My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam”. The director’s wife Eleanor helped to put together the acclaimed documentary of the troubled production called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which is an essential watch for fans of the film. Despite the production woes, the film was a huge critical and commercial success, with its cultural impact undeniable.

The Redux version, which involved re-recording several of the original actors’ dialogue 30 years since the original filming, plus the addition of newly recorded music, was met with generally positive reviews. Many critics felt that the revisions made the film an even richer, stranger experience, whilst some felt that the new cut was self-indulgent and that the new sequences, particularly one set in a French plantation, slowed the film down too much. Check out this wikipedia article for details of the changes. I personally prefer the original cut but the new additions are undoubtedly interesting to watch.

The Japanese title on this poster is made from a photographic image of burning wood and the explosion and helicopters are taken from the now iconic ‘Charlie don’t surf’ sequence.