Reeling in the years

Sixties cinema reflected the mood of a colourful and experimental decade. Matthew Valentine flicks through a new book of film posters of the Sixties

As a decade, the Sixties could be judged to have suffered from constant over-exposure since about 1970. A generation of parents has bored its children with tales of free love, the Beatles and LSD, and then wondered why they have grown up with a cynical, seen-it-all-before attitude.

But if familiarity can breed contempt it can also in some cases – as with film posters – establish iconic images which are somehow ingrained in the psyche, even if we are too young to have seen them first time around.

That enough examples have survived for these images to become familiar is itself a triumph of individual collectors. According to the foreword to Film Posters of the 60s – the essential movies of the decade, the Hollywood studios responsible for commissioning the posters routinely threw them away after a film’s run to save space. The selection of images shown in the volume is not, therefore, a definitive one.

The book contains a wide mix of design styles from an eclectic selection of movies. A lot of the defining movie genres of the decade are included. Spaghetti westerns, Bond movies, European arthouse films, and cheap and titillating Russ Meyer flicks are all represented. Foreign language posters and different poster treatments for the same film allow for interesting comparisons – or would do, if readers were given more information.

The main weakness of the book is a lack of detailed background to put the posters in context. The captions for most illustrations simply give the release date of the film, its country of origin and the size of the poster. Some, though not many, provide the name of the artist or designer responsible. For a book which is intended to group film posters by decade “focusing mainly on their design”, this seems to be a fairly major oversight. Design buffs are likely to feel shortchanged by this and many movie buffs, notoriously anal about any piece of trivia, will feel the same. Perhaps some liaison with the studios would have been beneficial. But on the standard of its artwork, the book scores well. The posters do fulfil their purpose of speaking for themselves, and are a pleasure to look at.

Future books in the series are planned, looking at other decades. They will no doubt throw up a lot of visual treats. If they are supported by as much research as they are enthusiasm they could become “must buy” items. Perhaps research for the Sixties volume suffers because, as the saying goes, if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t really there.

Film Posters of the 60s – the essential movies of the decade is edited by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh. Published by Aurum Press at 14.95

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