Book Review: The Art of Drew Struzan

Sometime in the last 20 years or so, the movie industry lost a bit of magic. Once upon a time we hardly had movie trailers on television. Instead, we’d see posters for upcoming movies that would try to snag a bit of our imagination. As much as the script, the actors, the soundtrack… the posters were an integral part of the moviegoing experience. And typically they’d be painted by hand, not edited on a computer or massaged as a photograph. The posters I remember from my youth were just as worthy of hanging in a gallery as they would be hanging on your bedroom wall.

Between 1977 and 1981, I must have had two or three different variations of the Star Wars poster on the walls of my bedroom. They were all in vibrant colors and captured the magic of “a galaxy far far away” better than any of today’s movie posters do. It’s become so bad that I hardly even look at posters any more because they all look the same – a miasma of faces and logos thrown together by a marketing department somewhere.

During this seemingly bygone era, one of these artists seems to have done an influential movie poster for every movie I loved in that time. Drew Struzan. Through the years, he captured a part of my imagination with posters for Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Big Trouble in Little China, Hook and many many more. It was through his talents I was drawn to many movies in my youth – with his art acting as a Pied Piper tune to lead the way.

The Art of Drew Struzan provides a glimpse into the magic his movie posters captured during his career spanning more than 30 years. But along with that you see the tragic tale of how the marketing machine of Hollywood has left the artistic tradition of movie posters in favor of a fast-food style that makes nearly every modern poster pale when compared to those of the past.

A foreward from acclaimed director Frank Darabont sets the stage with a discussion of how the “suits” have lost their way in marketing and a bit about how he came to know Struzan over the years. The artist did many pieces for Darabont’s movies, though some never made it to the public. And an introduction from author and film critic David J. Schow provides a glimpse into the life of Struzan and a lifelong appreciation for how much of his soul the artist puts into each piece. These are well known men in movies and the admiration for Struzan’s work is obvious, but more than that there’s an appreciation for how he works as well.

After that, the book progresses from Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008, showing black and white sketches, partially done pieces, and final artwork along the way. Struzan tells stories of each period as you go through the years, offering explanations for why certain things happened the way they did.

Struzan’s relationships with Spielberg, Lucas, Darabont and Guillermo del Toro through the years, along with other actors and directors makes for fascinating reading. But you can tell it’s all told with a touch of sadness the more recent you get. The fact that marketeers commission art from him but don’t use it is a travesty in my view and that seems to be the case more and more frequently as you go through the book. It’s no wonder that he retired in 2008.

The art alone would make this a worthwhile book to pick up – but it’s the context and history you get along the way that seals the deal. The Art of Drew Struzan should be on the reading list of any movie buff. Be sure to check it out at your local or online bookseller!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up books about Drew Struzan below!

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DVD Review: Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Hi all!

Joseph Campbell somehow over the course of his lifetime managed to gain an amazing amount of knowledge about myths from around the world – everything from the parables of holy books and myths to Star Wars. But even with all of this knowledge, Campbell managed at once to capture the giddy nature of someone who enjoys the stories themselves and the deep intellectual knowledge of the underlying themes, motifs, and ideals repeated throughout these tales.

When Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell for PBS in the mid 1980s, I don’t think anybody knew how the series would resonate with PBS viewers over time. In the 30 years since, it has aired repeatedly by viewer request. I had seen an episode here and there since then, but have never seen the entire series. Thankfully, the entire series is now available on a two-DVD set with many extras as Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers.

According to Campbell, the power of myth is that it provides a structure by which a person can navigate the pitfalls and temptations of our own mortality. And I think that no matter the era of human history, it’s readily apparent that we could (as a species) all use a better roadmap to avoid those pitfalls from time to time.

Hearing Campbell speak so eloquently about the themes of good and evil, conscious and unconscious, secular and mystical, is a bit like listening to the knowing voice of an elder. I couldn’t help but hear the voices of my grandparents in Campbell’s tale and explanations.

All six episodes of the original series are included on the two-DVD set.

The series starts off with “The Hero’s Adventure,” discussing the similarities between the stories of the Buddha and the Bible, and why the hero journey and mythology is still relevant in modern times. It’s fascinating to hear Moyers and Campbell discussing these various myths in the context of the worlds they come from as well as the emerging mythos of the Earth as a whole organism we are a part of – the Gaia principle.

The series concludes with “Masks of Eternity”, the pair covers the broad area of cultural “masks” – both figurative and literal – which serve as symbols of the divine and metaphors for thoughts of transcendence. Each of us has some idea of what “God” is – whether we think of the concept of the deity in a secular or theological sense. There are thousands of gods around the world – is any more true than any other? Some would argue that is the case. But Campbell argues that in all cases we are seeking to transcend the human experience into something greater than ourselves.

Through it all, Moyers manages to not only ask insightful questions, but seems to comprehend the nature of what Campbell relates along the way. The language used by both men goes above and beyond what I hear daily in the national news on radio, television, and in print – a welcome glimpse into a time where the media didn’t try to reduce concepts and words to a 6th grade vocabulary.

In addition to the six complete episodes of the series, there are many extras included – from lists of Campbell’s influences and a biography of Bill Moyers’ work, to photo galleries and an excerpt from Campbell explaining the Sukhavati – stories of the Buddha from Mahayana Buddhism. But two additional interviews really stand out for me…

An interview that originally aired in 1981 on the Bill Moyers’ Journal provides a bit of an early look and overview of the material covered in the later interviews that aired in 1987. At age 77, Campbell dove into what a myth and mythology are in a broader context. Again, Moyers expresses a deeper understanding from his own experiences that makes it easy to relate to the more intellectual explanations of Campbell. Both men are obviously passionate about the subject matter, which comes through despite the somewhat degraded quality of the original recording a transferred to DVD.

And an interview with one of my childhood idols, George Lucas, is the other highlight of the extras on the DVDs. “The Mythology of Star Wars” was filmed at Skywalker Ranch, filmed soon after Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace had been released. Lucas speaks eloquently about how myths could be applied to the modern world and how every day we teach through our own behavior. I thought it was very interesting to hear him speak about his own religious beliefs and how his stories are used in and out of religious context. He seems fascinated by the themes of worldwide religions and mythologies that he’s worked into his own mythology of Star Wars.

If you’re interested in mythology and want to learn more about these stories in a cross-cutting manner, you can’t find better in my opinion than Joseph Campbell. He was a brilliant man who had a gift for explaining the common themes and how to use these tales to “follow your bliss…” Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers is an amazing DVD set that has much to offer as food for thought. I’d encourage you to take a bite.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD set and other great books from Joseph Campbell below!

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Music Review: Eight Moons – Omnimi

Hi again!

Have you ever seen a movie where music composer John Williams did a movie score? His film scores for movies such as Star Wars, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and so on have entertained us for more than four decades. Some of his influences for the first Star Wars soundtrack may have come from a particular work by composer Gustav Holst. Holst’s most famous piece is “The Planets,” which was a suite of seven movements, each named after a planet and its corresponding astrological character.

In “The Planets,” the seven movements correspond to Mars (War), Venus (Peace), Mercury (the Messenger), Jupiter (Jollity), Saturn (Old Age), Uranus (the Magician) and Neptune (the Mystic). Each movement has a different character to it. For example, Mars is heavy and insistent with horns and drums, like a general marshaling his troops for a battle, while Neptune has a lighter, more mysterious feel to it using woodwinds. And each movement also is tied to the astrological character of the subject.

A new group has taken a similar approach to Holst in their new CD Eight Moons, composing songs about eight of the major moons with names of the gods – from Mars to the distant dwarf planet of Eris. Omnimi seems to seek a blend of classical, choral, and world music to evoke some of the same powerful feelings as Holst’s work – from the dramatic to the relaxing.

And, like Holst, each track feels as though it should be part of a movie soundtrack. “Phobos – Mars I” with its merging of a choir and driving percussion would be at home in a film like the upcoming Conan reboot starring Jason Momoa coming to theaters in 2011. There’s almost a desert feel to some of the percussion, giving it a vaguely “Arabian Nights” flavor.

From Phobos we move to “Io – Jupiter I,” which has a less insistent beat but somehow manages to fill the room with power with higher voices and strings building and building. What’s intriguing is there’s a rock guitar in the middle punctuating the lighter vocal performances, bringing this tune into a more modern era. Parts of the melody would feel right at home in the recent trailers for Chrisopher Nolan’s Inception.

My favorite of the tracks is “Neso – Neptune XIII” which manages to capture an ethereal, almost fairy-like sound and merges it with the incessant roll of the sea. Neso in Greel mythology is one of the goddesses of the sea and one of the 50 Nereids – one of the sea nymphs. Through a use of interesting beats behind the scenes along with the strings and voices it truly feels as though you are rolling along the waves.

Ultimately, I think Omnimi has done an amazing job in composing some truly unique songs in a Holst style. Movie directors and producers seeking full-sounding orchestrations for their own films would do well to give Eight Moons a listen to see how they might be worked into current productions. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Omnimi in the future!

For more information about Omnimi, be sure to check out their website at OmnimiMusic.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the CD here:

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