Sunday 16 September 2012

Book review - James Bond: 50 years of movie posters

The James Bond posters have been instrumental not only in advertising the Bond films over the past 50 years, but also helping to spread Bond iconography, such as the 007 gun symbol and the gun barrel motif. They have also introduced elements, such as the classic Bond pose seen on the poster for From Russia With Love, that have been perpetuated on subsequent posters and imitated for marketing campaigns of other films.

Fifty years of movie posters is not the first book to celebrate the rich archive of James Bond posters (up till now, Tony Nourmand's James Bond movie posters has been the key reference), but it is probably the most attractively-presented and comprehensive collection now available. Its coffee-table-book-in-sturdy-slip-case format apart, what differentiates this book, written by Alastair Dougall, from those it follows is that it approaches the posters from a design perspective; after all, the volume's consultant, Dennis Gassner, is a production and poster designer, whose most recent credit is Skyfall.

Thus, each of the 25 sections – one for each Bond film, including Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983) – begins with a summary of the principal design concepts and how they were adapted for different markets, and continues with a selection of posters that are accompanied by captions that highlight further points of design.

No doubt the poster selection is not as complete as one might have wished – I would like to have seen more non-US/UK posters – but there is still much that is new to the Bond aficionado or otherwise rarely seen, particularly the unused poster concepts, and the lobby cards, which often show unusual publicity photos or occasionally hint at scenes left on the cutting-room floor.

There are other aspects of the posters that I find especially fascinating. The Australian posters of the earlier films, including Dr No and Goldfinger, carried the warning, 'Not suitable for children'. As I suggested in a recent article, Bond films have always been intended for more mature audiences, despite generally being regarded as family entertainment.

A more general point about the posters produced for markets outside the UK and the US is the extent to which they were adapted to fit their respective cultural environments. One can identify posters from Japan even if the text was absent, since most designs employed the busy photomontage style so typical of that country. Swedish posters are also quite recognisable, as they often used a tricolour background. Occasionally the moral sensibilities prevailing in some territories forced Bond girls to cover up or be rendered less suggestively.

As mentioned with regard to lobby cards, the posters sometimes hint at plot details or character attributes which are absent or downplayed in the final cut of the film. Another example is an unused poster concept for The Spy Who Loved Me, which depicts Stromberg with obviously webbed fingers. In the film, little is made of Stromberg's fingers, although it explains why he doesn't like to shake hands. In the case of the poster, it is likely that the artist, possibly Bob Peak, relied on written plot details, rather than viewings of the film, when drafting the poster (indeed, this is supported by the fact that the characters don't resemble the actors who played them).

The book contains a few errors, although I have to admit that without having examined the text in great detail, I haven't spotted that many errors, but no doubt a longer list than mine has been prepared by other fans. However, even with the textual errors, the book brings together an amazing collection of posters, which surely everyone can enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. All movies, in a way, captures forever a time, a mood, and an attitude about world that has passed us by. Like a moving photograph they capture people and events that are long gone.
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