Movie Review: Drew – The Man Behind The Poster
There are several major artists who come to mind when I think of my youth: Walt Disney, Charles M Schulz, Glen Keane, and J Scott Campbell, just to name a few. But in the back of my head, there was another artist out there, whose name I wouldn’t really grasp until I was in my late teens: Drew Struzan.
Much like the works of The Walt Disney Studios or The Peanuts comic strip, Drew’s work has been seen the world over. That’s because one of his claims to fame, is doing artwork for many of the iconic posters we often saw growing up. His art was on many of the VHS covers our family had as a kid, and I even added several posters of his work to my lifestyle. A copy of his Back to the Future poster hangs on my work cubicle.
Filmmakers Erik Sharkey, Greg Boas, and Charles Ricciardi are also in Drew’s fan club, and in recent years, set out to achieve something that proves them to be die-hard fans: make a documentary about the man whose art got us so jazzed to see movies! The film originally started out as one of the first Kickstarter campaigns I ever heard about, and the first one that I eagerly donated to, when the film needed a little extra to get through the editing phase.
For much of the film, Drew is front and center. A modest man, relating the rough and tumble life of coming from a family that didn’t love or want him, and of the grueling poverty he and his wife endured as he struggled to make ends meet. As amazing as it sounds, there were times in his youth where Drew only ate 2 times a week, in order to afford paint! In fact, he found ways to make his art supplies last as long as possible: allowing him to use techniques that still endured into his later years.
We also learn about his early beginnings doing music cover art, a subject that then catapulted him into the big leagues: movie posters!
Of course, there’s more art than can be shown in a 2 hour documentary, but we do cover some of the highlights of his career, with commentary from noted filmmakers, celebrities, and even Drew’s wife and son. We see George Lucas and Drew going over the different pieces he’s done for Star Wars, Michael J Fox telling of the thrill of meeting Drew during Back to the Future Part II, and even Drew reminiscing about meeting Jim Henson when he was assigned to do a poster for The Muppet Movie! In fact, after that first poster, Jim told Drew, “you are THE Muppet artist.”
Of course, a Drew Struzan poster didn’t automatically mean a movie was going to be great, but there’s no doubt that Drew’s artistic sensibilities helped get us excited. One funny scene in the documentary, features actor Thomas Jane, drooling over Drew’s poster work for the 1987 film, Masters of the Universe.
Talk even extends to the artistic nuances that Drew brings to his artwork. It was his idea to do a tryptic for the Star Wars: Special Edition releases in 1997, and his own imagination regarding the poster art for John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m sure many of us think of Back to the Future every time we check the watches on our wrists, all because of that pose Drew has Marty McFly in.
In this day and age, movie poster art is sadly, a dead art form. Frank Darabont even made a quip about this in his film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist. At one point, a major storm has destroyed a project that the lead character (Thomas Jane, portraying a Drew Struzan-like artist) is working on. When he looks over the destroyed remnants of his work, he quips how Hollywood “could whip up some bad Photoshop poster in an afternoon. They do it all the time, two big heads.” And in a sense, that’s true: how many movie posters these days are able to make photos look as “artful,” as the stuff that people like Drew Struzan have made?
The end of the film gets a touch sad and melancholy. You can just hear Guillermo Del Toro wanting to go off on a tirade about modern-day movie marketing, and how determined Frank Darabont is, wanting to make sure that Drew never lives up to his claims of “retirement.”
One of the things I love about some of the great artists like Glen Keane and Hayao Miyazaki, is how they can stay so humbled in the face of hundreds of people fawning over them. This is definitely the case when we see Drew show up for 2011’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA. People are lined up to see Drew, and even he is unbelieving of this amazing sight.
Probably the biggest disservice to the film, is that given its subject matter, I was expecting it to be picked up by numerous film festivals. However, I was greatly annoyed when in a place known as The Second City, not even the Gene Siskel Film Center, or The Chicago International Film Festival picked it up to be screened! It’s not easy to annoy or irritate someone like me, but it made me once again sad that this City seems to care very little for The Entertainment Arts like this documentary.
Drew – The Man Behind The Poster stands out as a great reminder of not just a great and humble artist, but also of a career that has spanned 30 years. The fact that we see people of all ages talking about Drew, proves that love for artwork like this is not dead, but is probably even now being discovered by this current generation (and maybe even inspiring them!).
In the end, it is sad to think of all the films in the last decade that could have benefited from his talents. It’s not often that a documentary can leave me feeling both happy and sad, but the filmmakers have done their job with this one. I had to edit down a lot of what I witnessesed in the documentary, otherwise I’d give away a lot of what you might discover in it.
Much like animation can sometimes be considered as magic when it comes to “the illusion of life,” the creation of Drew’s art also can fit that bill. One magical moment in the documentary, shows Drew working on the poster for Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. You see him using everything from acrylics, to airbrush, and even colored pencils! Sure, many of us still bash the film almost 15 years later, but I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t not love that poster. I’m sure many people afterwords exited the theater, looked at Drew’s work and wondered, “why couldn’t it have been as exciting as the poster made me wish it to be?”