26th Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Drew The Man Behind the Poster’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Featuring: Drew Struzan, Frank Darabont, George Lucas, Thomas Jane, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Guillermo Del Toro, Michael J. Fox | Directed by Erik Sharkey

Drew-Struzan-paint

Opening with archival footage of Drew Struzan painting the original poster for Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, tells the life-story of an artist that as iconic to my generation as the films themselves. An artist whose work actually graced more films that I imagined and an artist whose work has inspired a new generation of illustrators, even though the poster medium as Drew knew it, is dead.

Starting at the very beginning, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster tells the story of how Struzan who grew up with a family who didn’t love him, his struggles at art school and his early “poor starving artist” years in which he tried to develop his art and support his family. It’s this part of the documentary – and the years BEFORE he found success as a poster artist – that make for the most interesting aspects of Eric Sharkey’s documentary. I never knew Struzan has such a bad upbringing and a poor start in life. I never even knew he worked on album covers during the 60s and 70s – producing album covers for Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper! As a fan of Struzan’s movie art, it turns out I knew little of his pre-poster years which meant this part of documentary was something of an eye opener.

For the most part, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster is a series of talking heads with celebrity friends/fans of Struzan from the likes of Thomas Jane, who essentially played Struzan in Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist; Steven Spielberg, who credits Struzan with being an essential part of his Amblin years and how both he and Struzan are becoming relics of a bygone film making era; Guillermo Del Toro and Michael J. Fox – celebrity fans of the artist who were able to work with Struzan and gush with fanboy praise over the man and his work; and then there’s Harrison Ford who, more than any other actor, has been an ongoing “subject” of Struzan’s poster art thanks to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Interviewed in 2010 (taking place on the same junket “set” where Ford was discussing his then-latest film, Extraordinary Measures), Ford talks candidly about admiring Struzan’s work and what it has done for him over the years, despite having never met the man! The brief scene in which the two meet for the first time is a truly sweet and magical moment…

And whilst there are more magical moments in Sharkey’s documentary, it is also not without it’s problems. There’s an air of sycophancy when it comes to Drew’s work with George Lucas and the scenes between them feel incredibly forced – whether that it’s a case of “stage fright” with the cameras rolling or whether it’s the quiet nature of Struzan himself – either way the scenes between the two look and feel remarkably awkward. Then there are also some odd moments when Struzan seemingly comes out of his reserved shell, revealing his sometime lack of modesty and buys into his own hype – talking about his “magic”. And the scene in which Struzan and his wife laugh at the death of someone, who admittedly did rip the artist off, is uncomfortable viewing. Even if it was a karmic case of “what goes around comes around”.

Ending with the release of the release of the book The Art of Drew Struzan and the artists appearance at San Diego Comic Con that same year, at the time of Struzan’s “retirement”, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster is crying out for a sequel or post-production epilogue, a discussion of Struzan’s return to poster art with the TNT series Mob City and the recent Dreamworks Animation film How To Train Your Dragon 2 (for which he painted the Comic-Con poster) and the new Star Wars movie, for which director J.J. Abrams wants him to do the poster…

Essential viewing for fans of Drew Struzan and movie poster art in general, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster could have, at least for me, spent more time on Struzan’s art (there are huge chunks of his work skipped over in brief poster montages) and less on the talking heads. But that’s a small gripe on what is a fantastic companion to the Titan Publishing’s book on Struzan.

*** 3/5

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