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09.19.07

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British Film Posters: An Illustrated History
I don't really want to see a double bill of Camp Site Massacre and Hellcat Mud Wrestlers, from 1983, but I love having the lurid poster reproduced in Sim Branaghan's history of British movie ads. The painting, by prolific artist Tom Chantrell, features, on the left, a screaming victim recoiling from a killer's hand to which a machete has been lashed with rope for maximum slashing grip; on the right, we confront in all her fleshy glory "The Fantastic Queen Kong (World Champion)," while marveling at how the title typeface seems to be printed in brown ooze. Even Branaghan, a film-history professor who combines a scholar's thoroughness with a fan-boy's mania, confesses, "Words fail us completely here." This wonderful compendium of cinematic come-ons (and "Carry Ons," the popular British comedy series) ranges from silent-film bill posts to the 1990s, when photographic posters started to take over from original illustrations. Branaghan provides details about the many British formats, noting that his countrymen preferred the horizontal landscape arrangement, or "quad crown," which approximately replicates the "shape of the classic 3:4 cinema screen ratio itself" (the Americans tended to go vertical). He also profiles the best practitioners of the art form, including Chantrell, who often posed as Dracula and other monsters for his Hammer posters. But the text will probably have to wait while most readers flip through the examples, which sometimes aspire to high art—a gorgeous purple and yellow hand-cut silkscreen with curving credits for The Case of the Pearl Payroll. But the exploitation titles bring out the best in the artists showcased: consider Goliath and the Vampires, with our hulking hero hoisting a bikini-clad blonde while being attacked by an enormous red bat with the head of the devil and a host of well-armed minions. Now that's entertainment. (By Sim Branaghan; British Film Institute; 304 pages; $40 paper)
—By Michael S. Gant



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