In time for the Christmas coffee table books wish-list considerations, the esteemed French art publishing maison Citadelles & Mazenod has released a tentalizing treat for movie and design lovers. Titled simply Affiches de Cinéma, the oversize tome provides a peek inside the remarkable collection of author Dominique Besson, Paris' go-to authority on vintage movie posters.
In straightforward chronological order, the lavish book offers a visual history of film through a study of the endangered "art of the poster", often referenced and most notably explored by Guy Peellaert while tirelessly working on the Las Vegas : The Big Room series of portraits between 1976 and 1986. Starting with the first "optical theatre" ads of the late 19th Century, the famed Cinématographe from Louis Lumière and the pioneers of the silent era, Busson handpicks a comprehensive selection of arresting images and titles and promotional tag lines, in a mélange that conjures up the commercial nature of a peculiar art form—or is it the artistic nature of a peculiar commerce. George Lucas, a longtime Besson client, has been tapped to deliver a succint but evocative introduction : the Star Wars creator reminisces about a not-so-distant pre-internet, even pre-television galaxy where these powerful compositions had a unique mission to "capture the spirit, entice and sum up in a single striking image a one or two hour film that had been months and years in the making."
As perhaps the most illustrious specimen in a particularly inspiring chapter devoted to the French Nouvelle Vague and the "New Hollywood" of the 1970s, the original Taxi Driver one-sheet artwork is the sole Peellaert image featured in this collection, but it is nevertheless one of the finest reproductions in recent memory and takes full advantage of the book's oversize format.
If one might regret the notable omission of Peellaert's Wim Wenders period—Besson focuses almost exclusively on universally popular films—a section on post-war cinema does allow for an appreciation of some of the artist's nostalgic references during the making of such classic images as Paris Texas or Wings of Desire. The distinctive brush strokes of film noir artworks, or the unique way actors' faces are painted from photographs into a seductive, compelling hybrid of two mediums seemingly engaged in a kind of historic battle for survival—from which the photographic image would eventually emerge as the undisputed victor : these are interesting clues indeed, and they lead up to an insightful epilogue : will interactive billboards and 24/7 marketing confine these masterpieces of "popular art" to the realm of museums ? They already have, actually, and it turns out to be a great chance for those (still relatively rare) institutions that recognize today's ever-amplifying appreciation for the art forms formerly known as "low".