The Early Art of Selling Movies

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Shortly after the dawn of what is now referred to as “Hollywood’s Golden Age” in the late 1920s, large motion picture studios like MGM, Paramount, and Fox – as a part of their marketing efforts – produced elaborate “exhibitors books.”  These books were sent to theater owners all over the country in an effort to promote films from a studio’s list of upcoming and in-production films.  The books are beautifully made and feature imaginative, colorful art from well-known illustrators. 

The Margaret Herrick Library’s periodical collection maintains a large number of these books from the heyday of Fox, Paramount, and Columbia studios, and has just added a selection of them to the Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections.  These books make for fascinating browsing for film historians and laypeople alike as they offer a glimpse of the inner workings of the studio system.

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One of the hallmarks of that system was a roster of stars.  Before the advent of the “star system” in the 1950s (which is still in place today), actors and actresses had strict binding contracts with one particular studio and would appear in a number of that studio’s films.  For example, Columbia in the Thirties had Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Rita Hayworth, while Paramount boasted Cary Grant and Marlene Dietrich. 

The exhibitors books highlight an interesting contradiction at work; while the film stars were subject to binding contracts which only allowed them to work for their own studio, illustrators (some, but not all) were free to move between studios, picking up work wherever it was available. The studios chose well-known illustrators for their exhibitors books, such as Alvan Cordell “Hap” Hadley and Ralph Iligan, who enjoyed greater privileges than artists who worked in the studio’s art department.  For example, they were allowed to sign their work and often worked in other industries besides film.

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Fred Kulz, who created much of the ghoulish artwork for Universal’s famous monster movies (including Frankenstein and The Mummy), was Universal’s in-house artist in the 1930s.  He must have had special standing at Universal as most of his work bears his signature.  An advertisement for Universal’s Frankenstein also provides evidence of a different version of the film than was eventually produced.  In fact, this is often the case with exhibitors books and is a large part of why they’re so interesting. Kulz’s ad names Bela Lugosi as the monster – a role eventually played by Boris Karloff. 

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It’s Banned Books Week. Now, I didn’t bring a lot of books with me to university- maybe 20. From them I’ve found at least four books which have been banned historically by schools and governments throughout the years. 

Literacy and education are very important to me, and it makes me sad to think about parents, schools and in some cases governments restricting what children can read. It makes me sad to think that in some places, people aren’t getting to enjoy some of my favourite books.

Books Pictured

Aristophanes- Lysistrata (part of Birds and Other Plays)

John Green- Looking for Alaska

Mary Shelley- Frankenstein

Geoffrey Chaucer- The Canterbury Tales

Why I HATE the new Dracula movie (!!!!!!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AXVuHRSR_w

This post is in reference to the new movie Dracula Untold. 

Monster movies used to be about monsters. The Creature from the Black Lagoon carried off fair maidens for nefarious, unstated underwater torment.

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The Wolfman’s hairy visage inspired fear and loathing because he couldn’t explain how misunderstood he was through his crooked, vicious teeth.

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And Dracula, a creature of ancient origins untold, stalks the beautiful woman, feeding on her blood for weeks until she succumbs to the unbearable dark and sensuous temptation of his embrace.

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These monsters were not complex, and they didn’t need to be—they were scary because of their simplicity. It’s the same reason Michael Myers wears an expressionless mask as he silently stalks his scantily-clad victims, and the same reason the demon who possesses little Regan in The Exorcist doesn’t feel the need to disclose his reasons for gripping the soul of the little girl and tormenting her family.

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Monsters without identifiable motives are by far more frightening-how do you stop a force of nature? How do you convince a tornado to avoid you? You cannot. But movie makers seem determined to do away with this altogether. 

Today’s ‘monster’ is emotionally complex and tormented. His past is flayed open for everyone to see and examine. Now, moviegoers can look at what was once a terrifying villain, stroke their chin and say, “yes, of course he behaves that way, for the evil inside him was obviously created”

 

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Sometimes, when this is creatively and carefully done, the result is a new interpretation of a character grown stale with age or overuse. One example of this is the recent Danny Boyle production of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as the Creature and the Doctor in alternating roles. 

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More often, though, these origin stories end up obliterating the intention of the original work, needlessly complicating the image of the original villain, and stripping him of his original terror-inducing qualities by misappropriating them. 

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This new Dracula movie, “Dracula Untold” promises to take everything we knew and loved about the original villain and shamelessly flay it. No longer is Dracula a shady figure from the distant past; he is an identifiable figure with a family and a name. No more will the strange objects that repel him (garlic, crosses, holy water) leave faint clues as to his demonic origin or place in the (under)world; he takes on a demonic alter-ego to save his family. Gone is the subtle, sneaking, silent threat of the blood-sucking fiend creeping through the crack in your window like a mist and gently drawing out your blood, for this Dracula is not a villain; Dracula is an anti-hero after all.

First of all, this is ridiculously attaching a famous name to a bland, everyman story in the hopes that an attractive actor will bring in unsuspecting viewers with little to no knowledge of the source material.

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But EVEN if that weren’t true, this movie is infuriating because of the missed opportunity implied by its ridiculous premise. You see, Dracula already has a pretty kick-ass origin story.

The character of Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler. 

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He was a Romanian crusader who lived during the early 15th century, and he was famous for his particularly gruesome methods of torture (though, as his name suggests, impaling was his favorite).

If you simply MUST make an origin story for one of fiction’s greatest villains, why not base it on the actual historical inspiration for the character? Why not make a movie about the way his deeply rooted Christian beliefs contrasted with his love for causing pain? Couldn’t Vlad’s appetite for human torture have caused the God he professed to love to turn against him, perhaps by punishing him with an eternal life of literally ‘thirsting for blood’? We may never know, because instead we get dreamy Luke Evans becoming superhuman in an attempt to save his family from a war, and gray skies with lots of dark birds and stuff. *sigh* What a waste. 

So, that’s why I hate the new Dracula movie. It defies the purpose of the genre, yet adds nothing new or fresh to it. 

Frankensteins Monster | A4 | Graphite on Paper

When I looked around I saw none and heard of none like me.

Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth

from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?

Frankenstein

Artprint available here

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