The Art of John Alvin

Film afi­ciona­dos will lap up this trib­ute to an im­por­tant poster artist from Hol­ly­wood’s last golden age

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Au­thor An­drea Alvin

MPub­lisher Ti­tan Books ovie posters are an art form unto them­selves. As well as sell­ing and rep­re­sent­ing a film, they have to stand out among all the other posters in a cin­ema lobby. They strad­dle ad­ver­tis­ing, mar­ket­ing and sheer cre­ativ­ity, and they’re one of the hard­est things to get right.

The Art of John Alvin is an in-depth look at one of the true masters of the form. It’s writ­ten by his wife An­drea, and fea­tures rare ex­am­ples of WIPs and re­jected con­cepts, as well as beau­ti­ful re­pro­duc­tions of his most iconic film posters.

Alvin be­gan his ca­reer in the 1970s with posters for Mel Brooks’ Blaz­ing Sad­dles and Young Franken­stein. How­ever, it was his poster for E.T. that launched his ca­reer. It sim­ply shows Eliot’s fin­ger con­nect­ing with the tit­u­lar alien’s. It’s an ab­stract work that

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Avail­able Now ref­er­ences Michelan­gelo’s The Cre­ation of Adam, but at the same time it con­cisely sums up the themes of the film (friend­ship and con­nec­tions), while main­tain­ing an air of mys­tery. Imag­ine see­ing the poster while know­ing noth­ing about the film it­self, as au­di­ences in the 1980s would have.

John’s Blade Run­ner poster takes a dif­fer­ent, more open ap­proach, but one that re­flects di­rec­tor Ri­d­ley Scott’s deca­dent vi­sion of 2019 Los An­ge­les. “John felt that the city was an im­por­tant character,” writes An­drea. As a re­sult, Har­ri­son Ford and Sean Young’s faces are split with shots of sky­scrapers and fly­ing cars, while main­tain­ing the film’s moody light­ing and dark at­mos­phere. But it’s de­bat­able how suc­cess­ful John was when he re­vis­ited his own work for the 25th an­niver­sary re­lease of Blade Run­ner, and added Rut­ger Hauer’s moody vis­age to the al­ready iconic mix.

As well as cre­at­ing posters in tra­di­tional medi­ums, John worked with photographs in a way that pre-dated Pho­to­shop. His poster for 1980s teen hor­ror flick The Lost Boys ar­ranged photographs of the lead ac­tors, which John then metic­u­lously painted over, re­mov­ing rough bor­ders and adding wisps of hair and even sunglasses on the hero’s face. The re­sult does a fine job of sell­ing the cult movie.

Un­for­tu­nately, John passed away in 2008, aged just 59. But he’s left a legacy of art that’s ev­ery bit as im­mor­tal as the films they rep­re­sent. Just think of Aladdin, The Lion King or Bat­man Re­turns, and it’s easy to re­mem­ber what the posters for those movies looked like. This book serves as a trib­ute to the man whose job it was to in­tro­duce the pub­lic to some of the most popular films of our time.

Here’s John’s strik­ing poster art for 1995’s home video re­lease of Star Wars: Episode IV.

As well as work­ing on posters, John was some­times asked to sup­ply art­work for mar­ket­ing pur­poses.

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