One of the most depressing sights on any trip to a cinema nowadays is the posters on display promoting the movies being shown or coming soon. They're awful.
Well, that's my view - but it seems to be confirmed by Sim Branaghan's collection of the best designs from this country's poster artists in the period 1896-1986, collected in his book British Film Posters: An Illustrated History, co-written by Stephen Chibnall.
That he's chosen not one poster from the past 21 years makes it seem as though the British film industry just stopped doing them in the mid-Eighties. But Branaghan's rationale is that movie posters went into a rapid decline with the arrival of computer desktop publishing and the end of the illustrated (that is, hand-painted) tradition that once dominated.
Nearly all today's posters are generic. Few are memorable. Software such as Photoshop means that most are just floating heads in space, with the actors' names emblazoned over them.
There was a time when movie posters would intrigue and excite audiences. They were pleasing to look at, striking, and - most important - they were original. Artists such as John Alvin, Saul Bass, Drew Struzan, Robert McGinnis and Bob Peak created images that would define a movie. Frank Frazetta's poster for Conan the Barbarian is easier to remember than any moment from the film itself.
But now, it seems as if film distributors are no longer interested in using posters to woo audiences. There are so many ways to attract an audience to a film - trailers, viral campaigns, internet sites reviews - that the once-great induustry of movie- poster art seems ratther quaint.
There is a view in marketing circles that the only thing a poster has to do is be seen by the public before release. It has to let the audience know what genre the film is and - most important - which stars are in it.
Posters are often designed more with someone's ego in mind than with the idea of enticing audiences. Many actors have in their contracts that their image must be a certain size, or that their name must be a certain size or position. Actors often have final approval; Annabella Sciorra vetoed the original two posters for Jungle Fever featuring her sucking Wesley Snipes's finger. The director Phillip Noyce blamed the failure at the US box-office of his film Catch a Fire on the fact that "too much emphasis was placed on Tim Robbins [the only name star in it] and not enough on the story."
Noyce is not the only one who believes that posters can still influence ticket-buying decisions. Distributors seem to believe that posters have the kind of impact they did when Bass - who created the title sequences for films such as North by Northwest, Vertigo and The Man With the Golden Arm - was in his pomp.
Martin Gough, the marketing manager at Soda Pictures, says part of the appeal of posters for marketers is that they are one of the strongest ways to catch the attention of a potential audience. "With a lot of other media, you can tune out. But with a poster, especially a massive one in a prominent position, you simply can't ignore it. They have so much impact."
And, he adds, the poster remains the single most expensive, labour-intensive part of a promotional arsenal. "For many films, we design the poster or adapt a poster from another country so that it works with a British audience. We feel we have more of an idea of what people here want to see. …