24X36: A Movie About Movie Posters is my kind of documentary. It delves into the world of nostalgia for a very specific facet of movie fandom, and it just so happens that this one thrives in the era I’m most nostalgic for: The ‘80s.
The film begins its exploration of movie posters with some of the most iconic: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., The Goonies, Apocalypse Now. Most of these are the ‘80s films of our childhood, and the filmmakers add a slightly cinematic touch of animating the still images ever so slightly. Indy’s whip moves, arms of Octopussy wiggle and the Goonies dangle from that stalagtite.
Director Kevin Burke lets his subjects tell the history of movie posters, including why authentic posters were often folded up with the film cans. They focus on some key artists like Bob Peak, John Alvin and Richard Amsel, each telling anecdotes about individual movies on which they worked. These are the stories behind the images from E.T., Jaws, The Empire Strikes Back, Apocalypse Now and Raiders that we all remember.
The subjects also tackle the ‘90s technique of floating head Photoshop posters. An animated timeline of poster styles from the beginning of cinema through the present compares all the identical poses disparate movies employ. Oddly, it comes up several times that studios and audiences get confused that a drawn poster means the film is animated. Is that where we are as a society that we can’t find out if a movie is live action or not on our own? The film’s subjects are quite astute that the photo posters are selling the stars, but not showing what the movie is about. Isn’t the latter more important?
The new movie landscape changes the poster’s very job too. Now they are small images on an iPhone. Even on Netflix’s home screen, it’s a screen filled with other little boxes. Artists themselves and art connoisseurs discuss their love of poster art and it is highly engaging.
Then the film shifts focus to the modern alternative poster artists. It explains how Mondo went from an iron-on T-shirt company to producing their own unique movie posters to having an annual convention, MondoCon. From there, other companies became inspired to do the same thing. I’ve seen a lot of Mondo online and in Austin, but 24X36 displays some cool new posters I’ve never seen before, like a Rocky IV image of Rocky climbing the mountain. The mountain itself is Ivan Drago.
For my tastes, I wish they’d focused more on the history of posters, even if it was just celebrating more individual posters like the stories shared about the titles above. Of course, new artists are more available and accessible. The film gets inside the collector mentality and the process of storing and displaying your poster collection too. It also explores the aftermarket industry when Mondo posters sell out.
24X36 risks being a commercial for Mondo in parts, although Burke smartly shifts focus any time it starts to gush. I get that the filmmakers are fans, and they are a major player in the poster industry, so we also get to see the modern industry that they nurtured. The narrative of the documentary does come back around to dealing with likeness rights, which means stories about talent as far back as Charles Bronson, Robert Mitchum and Vincent Price. And if this documentary were made five years from now, perhaps Mondo would just be another step in the bigger poster industry, but this is where we are now.
At only 80 minutes, I’m sure there are far more stories to tell about movie posters. Perhaps the eventual DVD release will include more poster-specific stories and tons of anecdotes that didn’t make the final cut. For someone who knows a lot about movies and marketing, I found a lot of rewarding material in 24X36 so surely a casual viewer would be impressed by all the information as well.