Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Here are two items courtesy of good friend Larry Aydlette, who these days can be found having fun at the movies and in the record shop, for those who still revere and perhaps obsess over the increasingly lost art of the theatrical one-sheet.

First of all, if you’re on the East Coast, particularly if you’re a Philadelphia citizen, you’ll want to know about a very special exhibit which opens today honoring the sketches and illustrations of Richard Amsel, a 1969 graduate of the school who created some of the most memorable poster art imagery of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as portrait covers for TV Guide and countless other magazines. For the next month, through May 14, Amsel’s work will be celebrated in a retrospective exhibit that will highlight Amsel’s work and call attention to his many influences, which included the art nouveau movement, Klimt, Mucha and, perhaps surprisingly, Walt Disney. According to JoAnn Loviglio, reporting for the Associated Press, “The portraits pay homage to the nostalgia of old Hollywood, often through the groovy lens of the Age of Aquarius, while still managing to look contemporary by today's standards.” Amsel’s designs, which emphasis a style of approach to movie poster art that has been largely sidelined in favor of simple photographic portraits, are instantly recognizable—he was responsible for the designs for standout one-sheets like The Sting, which referenced Saturday Evening Post illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, Murder on the Orient Express, Flash Gordon and, perhaps, most famously, the playful, evocative design of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. Amsel’s last poster was the one he created for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, finished just weeks before his death of AIDS-related complications at the age of 37. Thinking back on the work of Richard Amsel, as well as contemporaries like Bob Peak, is to remember a time when movie one-sheets and poster art, when placed in the hands of men and women like these artists, were more often considered artistic opportunities of their own apart from, but always in graceful support of, the movies themselves. The University of the Arts at Philadelphia’s Richard Amsel collection will provide those who appreciate Amsel’s work that chance to see, through his sketches and illustrations, how the artist’s ideas develop, where he intends to take them, and the process of exploration that occurs in each drawing. If you’re reading this on the East Coast this month, you may not want to miss it.


And here’s another bit of fun in which you don’t have to be an Easterner to take part: there’s a keen site that Larry has pointed me to this morning called Film the Blanks. Put simply (or perhaps mysteriously), the blog’s anonymous proprietor looks at the site as “An ongoing experiment to abstract and/or reduce film posters, some famous, some not so famous but all cool in their own way.” Put competitively, the site is a basically a year-long game in which contestants make guesses as to the identity of famous (and not-so-famous) one-sheets, which are initially presented as abstract versions of themselves, with new clues that bring the posters into more familiar focus as time goes by. Winners of individual poster guesses are tallied and aggregated on the sidebar (the first five correct guesses for every poster are given one point each) toward a year-end prize of some magnitude, the exact nature of which has yet to be revealed. There’s a tough one up for today (the 72nd post), and it may already have five correct guesses. But you should take a gander at the abstract archives for a clue as to the cleverness quotient at play here, and get ready for tomorrow’s new post, which will be available at “15:30 GMT” (figure it out!), with a subsequent clue added to the blank poster one hour later. That’s how it happens every day. And even if you don’t want to play the game, it’s still an excellent diversion to keep production down in your office while you’re gazing at the day’s featured puzzler. Do I smell an addiction brewing? Thanks a lot, Larry!



Howard Chaykin said...

Great post, DC.

As the proud owner of the original art for the onesheet for LUCKY LADY, an execrable film starring Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman and Liza Minnelli, it's terrific to see this wonderful illustrator finally getting some long overdue attention.

Like Bob Peak's work, Amsel's posters were frequently the best thing about the movies they promoted--and both their covers for TV GUIDE were clipped regularly by all of us young turks in comics back in the dim lost days of the 70s.

Amsel's death at so early an age--not too long after George Stavrinos, another sensational realist, whose work personified BERGDORF GOODMAN'S advertising so perfectly--was a perfectly ugly metaphor for the imminent collapse of one sheet art.

Thahks again for this terrific post. Unfortunately for me, I won't be back east until June, so I'll miss what promises to be an incredible show.

Greg said...

Is this the Howard Chaykin who is the comic book writer and artist? If so, you do great work yourself. If not, carry on.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

What Greg said, Howard. Thanks for stopping by and letting us have a peek into your one-sheet collection! (I loved that poster too-- the movie, somewhat less so!)

Actually, I just heard through the grapevine that there's a chance this exhibit could make its way to Los Angeles. If it does I'm sure you'll know about it before reading it here, but I'll pass the info along nonetheless.

Dorian Hannaway said...

This is a great site. However, Richard Amsel did NOT do the poster for Barry Lyndon. This is a common mistake. Richard Amsel was a close friend of mine. I donated my collection of his original art to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I had asked that you remove this from your site because it is wrong. Thanks, Dorian Hannaway

Roby said...

Nice tribute, Dennis. Amsel along w/ Bob Peak, Saul Bass and Drew Struzan are, to me, masters when it comes to the (rare) art of movie poster illustration. I've actually dusted off the old art stuff and am currently doing a tribute to them and to movies i love, with a series of 'one-sheet' posters (feel free to check out the work in progress at Cheers all!