Having crafted works known to moviegoers worldwide, Drew Struzan finally gets his own moment in the spotlight courtesy of Drew: The Man Behind The Poster, a non-fiction profile of the acclaimed movie-poster artist. Erik Sharkey’s documentary is far less adventurous than Struzan’s own creations, using a straightforward chronological structure and talking-head format to pay tribute to Struzan’s legendary output for films such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back To The Future, Rambo, Police Academy, and myriad others, all of them painted by hand and defined by Struzan’s gift for portraiture. As articulated by collaborators and admirers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Frank Darabont, and Guillermo Del Toro, Struzan’s posters are themselves integral parts of the movies they represent, capturing a thrilling sense of adventure, mystery, comedy, and emotion to the point that they literally define the essence of their source material.
Having fled an unloving home for college, where he met his wife, and then embarked upon an artistic career that, at least initially, paid him so little that he lived below the poverty line, Struzan found early success doing album covers for the likes of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper. Those initial triumphs landed him a gig painting movie posters, and after making inroads with George Lucas courtesy of an early “Circus”-style Star Wars one-sheet, he found himself a hot commodity for the business’ top directors. Drew details all of this with a fan’s enthusiasm that would be more out of place were it not for the fact that the film’s illustrious interview subjects are so smitten with the artist, and were his instantly recognizable posters—given front-and-center attention by director Sharkey, often in close-up to allow glimpses of their amazingly refined detail—not so beautiful and evocative.
Lamentations about cheap, Photoshop-reliant modern posters—whose concepts, as Darabont hilariously sums up, often amount to “Two Big Heads”—help further contextualize the excellence of Struzan’s efforts, the lifelike portraits of which convey far more sentiment and soul than the average photo. In that respect, Drew makes a valid case for the artist as not simply an all-time great, but as a casualty of a business that prizes bottom-line cost management above unique creativity. The irony of such a stance, of course, is that Struzan’s posters likely helped sell more tickets—as well as helped foster far more passionate cinephilia—than any computer-generated quickie poster ever did, a notion supported by footage of Struzan being enthusiastically received at Comic-Con. Yet Sharkey’s doc doesn’t dwell too didactically on the sorry state of current paradigms; it’s too busy lavishing adulation on Struzan, whose posters helped encapsulate, if not enhance, their given movies, to the point that they not only helped make their heroes and sagas iconic, but became iconic themselves.