Review: ‘The Art of Hammer’ by Marcus Hearn

Movie posters ain’t what they used to be.

At one time movie posters were art in and of themselves, a major selling point for the films they advertised. For many movies the poster was the only advertisement they got, so it had to be good. And, in many instances, the poster turned out to be better than the movie, promising things that the filmmakers couldn’t possibly match on the strength of their miniscule budgets (or, perhaps, their miniscule talents).

Those days are long gone. Movie posters are often an afterthought, a throwaway piece of paper that falls way below the trailer and the website and the viral videos and the interactive online games that studios employ now to get the word out. From a practical standpoint, I get it; marketing dollars are at a premium, and the studios have to go where they’re going to get maximum impact for the money spent, and a poster just isn’t it. For most, a poster is the thing they pass on the way into the theater – they’re already sold on the movie, so there’s no point in putting too much effort into the poster. Just Photoshop the stars’ heads onto a generic background, make sure everything’s spelled right, and move along.

Books like The Art of Hammer demonstrate why this is such a shame. The posters in this book are a huge part of the Hammer mystique, the particular flavor and identity the studio was able to cultivate over the years.  Horror movies dominate, of course, but Hammer also made comedies and crime thrillers and war pictures and science fiction movies, and the posters for all of these genres are umistakable in their Hammer-ness.

Hearn gives these posters plenty of room to shine on their own, showcasing them in big, beautiful reproductions while chiming in here and there with interesting tidbits on the artists, the back stories of the chosen art and the variations for different markets. The oversized format and glossy paper help sell that this is a true art book, and it’s doubtful (tempting as it may be) that anyone will be ripping these pages out to tape them to the wall. It may, however, send you scrambling to the Internet to try and track some of these down, so buyer beware.

Between this, The Hammer Story (written with Alan Barnes), Hammer Glamour and the upcoming The Hammer Vault, Hearn (who is the official Hammer historian, an awesome job if there ever was one) continues to share and preserve the wonderful history of this amazing studio. We owe him a debt of gratitude, as well as all the talented artists who gave us such striking and iconic images to enjoy.

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