To immediately go on a tangent at the start of this review, I want to state that I have often found the concept of sports films very alienating. I get the representation of teamwork and conquering goals, but I have often felt distanced from the community represented on screen. There is an inherent unity with strangers who are invested in supporting a common element – for example, a sports team overcoming a decade’s long drought to finally win the championship cup. With that unity, there can be an inherent exclusion for those who find the sport being represented on screen confusing, or incomprehensible, or who simply cannot understand the admiration of sports in general.
I mention sports as a comparison to Kevin Burke’s 24×36 and its potential point of distancing some viewers from the subject matter – that is, poster collecting. As someone who has been embedded in the world of poster collecting for years, and who has had many heated discussions about the value of a certain print, or the difference between printing processes, this is a film that speaks directly to my interests. It’s a film that shows my sports team winning – I know the lingo, I know the artists, heck, I’m friends with some of the collectors in this film – so I understand how the subject matter can be distancing, or alienating for those peering into this world of obsessiveness.
Rare and collectible items aren’t exclusive to film posters of course – people collect sneakers, variant Kit-Kat flavours, Pokemon cards. For that matter, 24×36 isn’t a film completely about the collector, instead, it is more about the history behind the product that is a collectible film poster. Where Burke’s film succeeds is its unfailing approach to making a niche field a familiar endeavour. With the exploration of the evolution of print making, and the role that film posters had on the promotion and marketing of films, the latter segments that detail the exhaustive and tiring life of a poster collector become relatable and understandable.
There is an obvious passion for detailing the history of print making and film promotion, and interviews with industry titans such as William Stout and David Byrd help inform the ‘golden era’ of poster production. Sure, artists like Drew Struzan have become household names along the way, but the many other artists who have created iconic posters have been long forgotten (such as Roger Kastel, the man behind the often imitated, but never surpassed, Jaws poster) – and in some ways, this is their moment in the spotlight.
While 24×36 isn’t as exhaustive as other documentaries out there – such as Drew: The Man Behind the Poster which is dedicated to an unwavering adoration of Drew Struzan – it never presents itself as a film that aims to be the bible on poster history. Instead, it is more of a platform to launch a thousand Google searches in discovering more about the minds behind the posters we’ve come to recognise as the iconic representations of films we love.
The rise of the floating head poster is part of the reason why companies like Mondo and Gallery 1988, and artists like Tim Doyle, Daniel Danger, JC Richard, Tom Whalen, Todd Slater and many, many more have found success in the proliferation of the screen print world. It’s here that Burke’s detailing of the foundations of film posters comes into full effect – the posters of the fifties (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a prime example) have inspired artists decades later to represent their favourite films in their artistic style. It’s often easy to forget that while these artists are putting a physical product into the world, they too are fans of the subject material as well – as seen with Josh Budich’s discussion about being a fan of both films and artists, and his subsequent immersion into the print making world. His awe of being able to touch a product that he created is as tangible as the poster itself.
Through interviews at one of the film poster collecting meccas, Austin, Texas’ Mondocon, we get a greater glimpse into the world of the artist, as well as the world of the poster collector. Poster Buddies (as is one of the collective terms that a print collector may go by) like Emily McCallum, Jeremy Meyer, and Kayley Luftig are seasoned collectors who through their collecting have built relationships with the artists, increasing the symbiotic and circular relationship between the IP, the art, the artist and the consumer.
In an episode of the 2016 Gilmore Girls revival series, Rory attempt to find out what drives a person to line up for hours on end for a limited product. Is it the fear of missing out? It is the desire to make easy money off a collectible item on the aftermarket? While 24×36 doesn’t go into the minutiae of the whole ‘lining up for three days straight’ aspect of collecting, it does at least touch on the desirability of obtaining a collector’s item that only you and a few hundred other people own. The ‘other’ film about poster collecting – Just Like Being There – touches on this aspect a little bit more, and together, the two films work wonderfully at essaying this sub-culture of pop-fandom.
Other topics that are briefly touched on could (and have) spawn a million arguments – the open editions that Tim Doyle puts out, the world of private commissions that possibly infringe on protected IP’s, the contentious subject of likeness rights (even if the actor has long left this world) – but once again, 24×36 is merely presenting the foundations of this world and making it understandable for those on the outside. For me, the subject of print collecting is an exciting one, and seeing people who I have personally interacted with in their print collecting journey is exciting.
Which raises the question, is 24×36 a film that is interesting enough for those who are not invested in the hobby? I’m again made aware of the relationship between a supporter of a team and the affection they have for that teams success – an outsider looking in may find that somewhat blind adoration unhealthy, or worrisome. For me, I think the common element that unites the poster collector and those new to this world, is that of cinema. The marketing tool that is the film poster is one that every cinema goer can relate to, and ideally for those who are interested in peaking behind the curtain of what goes in to selling a film, this will be an interesting film to leap in to.
Full disclosure as well – while I did not back 24×36 during its Kickstarter campaign (although I wish I did!), in the credits you can see three of my framed prints (keep an eye out for the Ken Taylor The Loved Ones, Todd Slater Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Aaron Horkey’s There Will Be Blood prints). I didn’t provide a running commentary like some collectors did, but if I did I would have to say that the posters represent films that I have grown to love over time, and for me the art that Taylor, Slater and Horkey have created are greater than or equal to the official posters for each of their related films.
24×36: A Movie About Movie Posters is currently doing the festival rounds at the moment, with the view to having a wider streaming release in 2017. Keep an eye on the website for further details.
Director: Kevin Burke
Featuring: David Byrd, Tim Doyle, Mitch Putnam