Drew: The Man Behind the Poster: Film Review

Drew: The Man Behind The Poster Still - H 2013
Worshipful doc will play best with fanboys

One of the last great movie-poster illustrators receives an admiring portrait.

A legend among fanboys, poster artist Drew Struzan has crafted enough iconic images for franchises like Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones series that some directors, like genre-friendly auteur Guillermo Del Toro, will hire him to make posters despite knowing a film's distributor will never use them. Erik P. Sharkey puts plenty of those images before us in Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, and gathers effusive praise from people like Steven Spielberg, who recalls feeling challenged to deliver a movie as thrilling as its poster. Though it will play well with genre diehards on video, the sometimes awkwardly shot doc is too fawning and narrow in scope to attract much of a crowd in theaters.

After a split-second account of his childhood in which Struzan's head-turning claim "my parents didn't love me" is let go without a follow-up, the film describes the early years of a career in which, as he tells it, the young art student routinely ate only two days a week. Needing to earn more after meeting wife Dylan and having a child, he found work painting album covers; after producing eye-catching illos like one of a tuxedoed Alice Cooper for Welcome to My Nightmare, he was discovered by boutique key art producer Tony Seiniger.

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Sharkey devotes chunks of time to landmarks in Struzan's career -- we see George Lucas comb over his favorite pictures, hear Harrison Ford (seemingly in the middle of an Extraordinary Measures junket) talk about being made even more handsome and rakish in dozens of Indy portraits. But while some of these chapters are illuminating (for instance, talking about how a hand-painted image of The Muppets animated them in a way still photos couldn't) others leave the geek viewer with questions the film never raises. Why, for instance, was that beautifully old-fashioned poster for the original Star Wars passed up for one by the Hildebrandt brothers (pretty great in its own way, but unfaithful to the film) that made Luke Skywalker look like a rock-stomached Frank Frazetta hero?

The doc drops other balls as well -- despite the time it devotes to a story about a partner who allegedly cheated Struzan for years, it never gives the swindler's name -- and although it offers some insight into his distinctive technique, it could have gone much further. But viewers will appreciate spending time with this cheerful, unassuming man, and will enjoy seeing the artist acknowledged by celebrities who owe him so much -- like Michael J. Fox, who says he can hardly look at his watch without feeling he's reenacting the signature image of Back to the Future.

Production Companies: Sharkey Productions, Torino Pictures, Hefty Inc

Director: Erik P. Sharkey

Screenwriters: Greg Boas, Charles Ricciardi, Erik P. Sharkey, Jeff Yorkes

Producer: Charles Ricciardi

Directors of photography: Greg Boas, Thomas Mumme

Music: Ryan Shore, Andrea Chang, Christina Stroeh

Editor: Greg Boas

No rating, 94 minutes