The Art of John Alvin
Film aficionados will lap up this tribute to an important poster artist from Hollywood’s last golden age
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.