Friday, February 7, 2014

The Art of Drew Struzan by Drew Struzan and David J. Schow

Before reading this highly personal art book I saw the documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (available on Netflix). Although I was familiar with almost all of his movie-related work, I did not know who he was until then. For reference, he made these: original Star Wars. Back to the Future. Blade Runner. Harry Potter.

I went to the library to pick up his book to stare at details in his art up close, now that the documentary had educated me on what all was involved in producing the images. I did not expect the book to be more than a coffee table book on art, so it shocked me with its honesty and, quite frankly, justified bitterness.

See, Struzan was pretty much screwed over by a business partner for almost a decade. You'll learn about this in the documentary. In addition, although directors were flocking to him, begging him to paint a poster for their upcoming movies because they knew he's the only one who would get it right, the studio execs would usually say sorry, but we went with another poster instead because Struzan's work was "too artistic." Instead, you get quickly made movie posters that just show the main characters standing or sitting in line, probably against a white background. Or just closeups of the main actors' faces.

To give a specific example, Pan's Labyrinth was one that received the "too artistic" criticism: the art was requested by the director, Guillermo del Toro, and Struzan painted an image based on del Toro's sketch. Del Toro loved it; the studio decided to use this instead. It's not bad either, but it just has a different feel to it.

As Struzan describes his posters he delves into the background politics of each. It is quite upsetting to read about a man who is absolutely amazing at what he does, highly revered for his skills by others and even his subjects, but then swept aside for the purpose of dumbing down the content for the mass audiences--which the audience did not ask for.

The more I thought about his work the clearer it became why he was so sought after: his posters embody the feel of the movie you are going to watch, not just a Photoshopped head of the main character to tell you that yup, that guy's going to be in it. If I recall right, this also becomes evident in the documentary in the way people speak about his work. 

It is great to have an artist in the popular culture scene whose skills go way beyond just technique. Then again, it is unfortunate that he has been pushed aside to retirement, where he now focuses on creating other art on his spare time. Art is divided enough into popular and high art, as if those two should never mix--let there be Struzan, who bridges the gap. 


  1. Very accurate and insightful Jenni, well done!.

  2. Thank you! I may have ended up regurgitating some of the teachings in the documentary as well, but I doubt I actually understood it all until I read this book. It's great.