Listen to WXXI’s 1370 Connection with Bob Smith (1370AM) from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday, June 10, to hear a one-hour live interview with Ira Resnick and Eastman House’s Jim Healy, assistant curator of motion pictures. The interview will stream online at http://interactive.wxxi.org/listen
When you visit a movie theater today, the posters you see are created from photographs and images from the films being touted. But in the old days, movie studios had art and publicity departments that would create fanciful, elaborate and astonishingly gorgeous graphic posters.
The Canary Murder Case, 1929
This Friday, June 11, the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House will take a look at vintage movie posters — a bygone age of the motion picture advertising industry — plus a classic film starring Louise Brooks.
The feature screening will be The Canary Murder Case (Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle, US 1929, 88 min.). Originally shot as a silent picture, this classic whodunnit exemplifies Hollywood’s transition into the sound era. Screen siren Louise Brooks (whose voice is provided by Margaret Livingston since she refused to reshoot her scenes for the sound version) plays Canary, a crooked nightclub singer whose murder is the focus of investigation by detective Philo Vance (the great William Powell).
The screening will be preceded by a presentation from Ira Resnick, author of Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood.
Resnick will sign copies of his book “Starstruck” before and after Friday’s program.
For four decades film historian Ira M. Resnick has been amassing a collection of 2,000 vintage movie posters and 1,500 stills. The book features the best of Resnick’s collection, with vivid reproductions of 250 posters and 40 stills from a golden age of Hollywood, from 1912 to 1962. The book’s foreword is by Resnick’s former NYU film instructor, Martin Scorsese.
Resnick relates how his love of vintage movie art translated into a career as a collector and the founder of the Motion Picture Arts Gallery, the first gallery devoted exclusively to the art of the movies. Resnick’s firsthand account offers entertaining anecdotes about how he managed to acquire such stellar film artwork, as well as historical information about the stars and films shown on the pieces he collected.
Resnick provides a tour of cinematic history, starting in the silent film era and continuing up to Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). By showcasing several posters for each performer — such as Lillian Gish, the Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, John Barrymore, and Audrey Hepburn — Resnick offers a unique method of charting the evolution of each movie star’s career. Offering both a chronological and thematic organization, in later chapters Resnick discusses some of Hollywood’s legendary directors and films, and critiques fantastic graphic art from little-known films.
Resnick, a professional photographer, is a trustee of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where he served as chairman of the board from 1999 to 2005, as well as the International Center for Photography and MUSE Film and Television. He resides in New York City with his wife and two children.
This vintage poster was designed to promote “Sherlock Holmes” starring John Barrymore, a film recently restored by Eastman House.
In an interview with Susan King from The Los Angele Times, Resnick talked of the dream he has had for years: ”You are walking along and you come to a door of an old movie theater that’s being torn down. The door opens and there is a room in the theater that hasn’t been opened in years and all the posters are there for the taking in their original wrappers.”
King calls Starstruck “an exploration of one man’s unending passion,” which began with the purchase of a lobby card in the 1970s of the 1937 Katharine Hepburn classic “Stage Door” for $50, plus one-sheets at $35 each for the 1936 comedy “Love Before Breakfast” and 1937’s screwball “The Awful Truth.” He still owns all three posters.
“That started it,” he says. “That was the way I could own a piece of the original production.”
The posters from this bygone era, according to Resnick, were far more important then than now. “It was the way they
had to sell the film,” he said. “A one-sheet today is such a minor part of selling a film. It just fills a hole in a movie theater or a multiplex. In those days, it was what brought the people in all over the country and all over the world to see what was coming next. It whetted their appetite. The artists took a lot of pride in it.”
Copies of Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood are available from our Museum shop.
Dresden Engle is the Public Relations Manager for George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.
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