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Catching Up on 2013: Drew: The Man Behind The Poster

February 3rd, 2014
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There’s a particular kind of nerd who knows the name Drew Struzan.

Being a movie-lover, sci-fi fan, and wannabe-illustrator for as long as I can remember, I knew of Mr. Struzan since an early age.  Prints of his work have adorned by room/apartment/house for years and years!

Mr. Struzan is one of if not the very best movie poster illustrators who ever lived.  Mr. Struzan has illustrated so many iconic movie posters, including all of the Back to the Future films and all of the Indiana Jones films (his awesome teaser poster was the only good thing about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — I had that poster hanging up for months, only to take it down in shame the day after I finally saw the film).  Mr. Struzan illustrated the posters for many of the Star Wars films (one of the posters for the original film, the iconic original Revenge of the Jedi poster, and all of the posters for the Special Edition re-releases and the prequel trilogy) along with posters for John Carpenter’s The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, for the first four Police Academy films, Steven Spielberg’s Hook, the first Harry Potter film, and Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile (not to mention some glorious work for the DVD release of Mr. Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.)  And believe me, that list just barely begins to scratch the surface!

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster is a documentary, directed by Erik Sharkey, that explores Mr. Struzan’s life and career and that spends time exploring the work Mr. Struzan did on all of those famous movies that I listed above (and many more). Quite a wealth of filmmakers and actors are interviewed, and while perhaps only a certain slice of nerds know Drew Struzan’s name, it’s cool to see that we are joined by many big-time Hollywood stars who know and love Mr. Struzan’s work.  I have Drew Strzan’s work hanging in my home — so too does George Lucas!!  It’s a lot of fun to see how genuinely giddy, say, Michael J. Fox gets when discussing Mr. Struzan’s work.  Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have a lot to say, as does Harrison Ford, who has been painted by Mr. Struzan a LOT (all of the Indy and Star Wars posters over the years, and, although Mr. Struzan didn’t do the original Blade Runner poster, he has done many paintings connected to that film in the years since, including the iconic image used for the film’s blu-ray release).

Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro have a lot to say about their love for Mr. Struzan’s work, and, as big fans of Mr. Struzan’s, they talk about how important it was to get Mr. Struzan to illustrate the posters for their films (though sadly those posters were not used — more on that in a minute).  Steve Guttenberg pops up to talk passionately and energetically about Mr. Struzan’s wonderful work on the posters for the first four Police Academy films.  So too does Thomas Jane, who played a Struzan-like character in Frank Darabont’s The Mist.  (In an early scene in the film, we see Mr. Jane’s character in his studio, surrounded by Drew Struzan paintings, and working on a painting that Mr. Struzan created for the film: an image of Roland Deschain from Stephen King’s Dark Tower books that blew the minds of fans everywhere.)  I am not sure how Sam Witwer wound up in this movie (he’s a fine actor but certainly on a lower-level of stardom than most of the other participants), but he has some very insightful comments to make, and he’s also very funny when talking about how often Mr. Struzan’s posters were better than the films themselves.  Mr. Witwer declines to name any specific films, though Thomas Jane gleefully doesn’t.  Masters of the Universe, anyone?

Sadly, these days, a painted movie poster is an extremely rare thing indeed — almost all we see are photoshop montages.  Two big heads and a title.  This has resulted in Mr. Struzan’s having found it more and more difficult to get work over the last decade.  It’s sad to hear Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro describe how hard they had to fight to get Drew to illustrate the posters for their recent films, in the face of mounting studio resistance.  And ultimately, though Mr. Struzan did the work, the studios refused to use his art to market Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (how could they not use this artwork?), or Pan’s Labyrinth (how could they not use this artwork?), or The Mist (how could they not use this artwork?).  It’s a shame.  The many interview subjects in this film argue passionately for the magic that an artist’s touch can add to a movie through their work (Harrison Ford rightly describes Mr. Struzan as just as critical a collaborator on the Indiana Jones films as John Williams) and I think one look at any of Mr. Struzan’s extraordinary posters makes that case more eloquently than any words.

This is a fun documentary shedding some much-deserved light on one of the great under-appreciated talents of the movies.  I had a great time watching it, even though I also found it to be a little depressing in the end — not only because it’s a crazy world in which the great Drew Struzan isn’t regularly employed by movie studios, but also because as an artist I can only wistfully dream that I could paint one one-hundredth as well as Drew Struzan!!  A big congratulations to Erik Sharkey and his team for putting together such a lovely documentary on such a well-deserving subject.