What do Indiana Jones, Back To The Future, The Thing, Harry Potter, and Big Trouble In Little China all have in common? If you answered they’re all movies, you’re not wrong and you’re most likely a fan of movies. However, that is not the answer I’m looking for. If you answered Drew Struzan give yourself a pat on the back, as that is the answer I was looking for. Not only are you a movie fan, but your fandom and love for that art form runs deep, my friend. If you didn’t answer Drew Struzan take heart, because I guarantee that while you may not know the name you know his work.
Drew – The Man Behind The Poster is a documentary that focuses on the life and career of illustrator and painter Drew Struzan. His work is known and recognized throughout the world even if most are unaware of his name or even the impact he had on movies and their marketing. If you’re anything like me, movies spoke to you and had a huge impact on your life. I spent countless hours in darkened theaters on weekends watching movies and living vicariously through their characters. In those days before things like the internet (GASP!) movie marketing relied heavily on the poster art to entice its potential future audience. If the poster looked good it sold you a ticket. Sure once when you were in the theater you’d see trailers for other movies but that poster is what got you in there in the first place. And Drew’s posters spoke to you! And so does the film.
It truly is a love letter to Struzan and features interviews with the man himself, his wife and his son, but also Hollywood royalty such as Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro and many more. Through these interviews they tell the story of how Struzan, who painted before he talked, knew he wanted to be an artist and relentlessly pursued that dream. Coming from a home where his parents didn’t love or want him he left home after high school to pursue his dream and never returned home or saw his parents again. He got his break painting album covers. Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare” are featured, which lead to his working for movie studios.
A few things strike you as you watch the film. Drew comes off as almost painfully humble. As George Lucas walks him through the halls of Skywalker Ranch, whose walls are adorned with numerous pieces of art Struzan designed and painted over the years, he seems completely unaware of the impact his work has had on so many people. He even downplays his work as nothing special at times, like his iconic Revenge/Return Of The Jedi poster. Another thing realized is the sheer volume of amazing work he’s created over the last 40 years. As images of posters fly across the screen it’s shocking how much of it there is and how many times you find yourself saying, “Of course that one was Drew!” It’s quite staggering really how one man, often times with no direction or input other than his own, and no materials from the film to work with, created such iconic imagery. In spite of illustrating and painting Harrison Ford hundreds of times the two never met face to face until 2010. As actor Thomas Jane puts it not so delicately in the documentary, Drew’s posters made you want to see the movie and often times his posters were better than the movie itself. Steven Spielberg talks of the pressure of making the film look as good as Drew’s interpretation of it. “He brings E.T. to life in one frame where I need at least 24!”
The film follows a narrative of the movie studios being a more profit driven force these days and instead of seeking out someone like Drew, they now use Photoshop with photos of actors floating heads as their posters. This is sad because I don’t think there will be a next Drew Struzan. I can only shake my head at how amazing a Drew Struzan poster for The Avengers would have been over what we got instead. The film ends with Struzan’s retirement to focus on family, his personal art and his moving appearance at San Diego ComicCon with Frank Darabont promoting The Walking Dead and Drew’s book “The Art Of Drew Struzan”.
What Struzan created over 40 years is now a lost art. And while Drew seems blissfully unaware of his importance or impact his work made, his fans are not. In the days before home video or streaming, a poster was a way to take that movie’s experience home with you. My walls still have Drew’s work on them and this film made me want more of it. I’ll quote Drew from this movie here:
“Truly, dreams come true. They truly do.”
Highly recommended. “Drew – The Man Behind The Art” is available on Netflix and DVD.