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April 5-11, 2006

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Book Box

'The Art of the Italian Film Poster'

The Art of the Italian Film Poster
REVIEW (By Mel Bagshaw; Black Dog Publishing Ltd.; 214 pages; $39.95 paper)
—Richard von Busack

In this indispensable collection, Mel Bagshaw charts nearly a century of a powerful graphic tradition, from the advertisements for the silent film classic Cabiria to the end-of-the-world Pasolini shocker Salo. Vibrant and sometimes vulgar, the selection here reflects a nation in turmoil. Even this most escapist art had rage in it. The poster for Ercule Contro Rome (1964) is a dorsal view of the demigod, his shoulder muscles corded as he prepares to hurl an Oldsmobile-size rock at some centurians: the image could have been appropriated by any union's strike committee. Which isn't to say that this florid tradition is all political—this was a genre that gave the world Zorro vs. Maciste. Bagshaw has also collected the more elegant side of Italian design, including the museum-worthy poster for La Dolce Vita, with Marcello Mastroianni diagonally opposed to a dancing Anita Ekberg. A mating couple, dyed green as pippins except for their poison-red lips, perfectly sums up Antonioni's La Notte in one image. Clint Eastwood is even more intimidating on the poster for For a Few Dollars More than he was in the movie. "Screaming With Style," the horror/giallo section, is worth the price of the book alone. Here, silent movie expressionism matches carnival colors. Bagshaw shows the range of styles in the ads for the same movie: a graphic poster of the punishment of Barbara Steele in Mario Bava's Black Sunday is compared with a more uptown PG-rated image of a red handprint over Steele's shocked white face. This is an essential reference work, with a surprise on every page, and the reproduction quality is about the best I've ever seen.



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