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A lost art? Film posters go under the hammer

Stunning promotional designs from movies including King Kong, Roman Holiday and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine feature at New Bond Street auction

23 August, 2019 — By The Xtra Diary

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) estimate £6k-£9k

THERE has been much hand-wringing and head scratching in recent years among both movie fans and studio bosses concerning how the rise of all things online will affect the film industry.

But one aspect of the changes in the world of celluloid that Diary has long held a particular interest in is rarely mentioned – the potential demise of a particular genre of art.

It is the film promo poster, a form of advertising that was once eagerly awaited by the cinema-going public. Sometimes made up of an image of an international star to draw the attention in, sometimes using film scenes or simply eye-catching typography, the movie poster reflects the style of the age the film was made in.

Top Hat (1935) estimate £15k-£20k

But as more films are promoted solely in a digital way, online advertising for example, studios are less willing it seems to pour resources into creating one-off posters to hang in cinema foyers or on the side of buses. And what a shame, as a trip to auction house Sotheby’s in New Bond Street will show.

It’s hosting an auction of scores of stunning film posters featuring blockbusters, sci-fi, classics and animation, and ranging from a 1937 original promoting the Disney cartoon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through to classic British pop art of the 1960s, which includes The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and Help!.

Bruce Marchant, Sotheby’s original film posters consultant told Diary that film posters were not only beautiful pieces of graphic design.

“Film posters have the power to evoke memories. Most people have a favourite film or actor and when they see a poster they are transported back in time,” he said.

King Kong (1933) estimate £30k-£50k

“This auction has a variety of different posters from around the world, including many classic titles such as King Kong, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, as well as a number of rare original artworks. Owning an original poster is not only a wonderful piece of art, which brings a part of cinema history into your home, it can also be a good financial investment.”

They have always been a powerful visual aid to let viewers know a film’s theme and narrative – as well as who is starring. Charlie Chaplin’s and Marilyn Monroe’s faces were worth 1,000 words. Cult movies also used designs and images that would speak to certain demographics.

You can pop into the Sotheby’s gallery (until September 2) and have a look at some of the lots. Prices start at about £700.

There’s a poster for the 1953 Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn – who won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Other highlights are High Society, which had the stellar line-up of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Louis Armstrong.

Animation has a large presence: from Tintin to Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear to Peter Pan. The auction is truly a celebration of the work of the visual artists whose talents helped sell Hollywood.


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