Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Art of Wars

At last, I've remembered to post about Star Wars on May 4th. The film of course debuted on May 25, 1977 but the pun is too fourthful to resist, making today the official commemoration.

At the height of Star Wars fever, the wall facing my bed looked something like this.

And while suffering the height of glandular fever in 1978 there was little I could do but stare at these three posters between bouts of sleep and vomiting. In fact, I often had a ghostly negative after-image of Darth Vader flitting about in my vision when it didn't hurt too much to move my eyes. The robots poster is of course an enlarged still from the movie's opening moments. Owning this long before I ever saw the film, I experienced an almost audible click of recognition when Threepio struck that pose for a second as he hears the main reactors shut down. Suddenly I wasn't looking at a cinema screen but, weirdly, my bedroom wall along with hundreds of strangers.
But it was the centre poster which has quite rightly assumed iconic status, it's painterly magnificence long outlasting publicity shoots and movie stills, and even transcending the film itself to become an emblem of the 1970s.

Odd really, as Star Wars is so much about clean metallic lines and sharp-edged, high contrast design, that an artistic impression devoid of accurate likenesses or genuine scenario embodies that first film like nothing else.
Odder still when you consider that this art, painted by the brothers Hildebrandt, wasn't even used as the cinema poster. In America, it was this image by Tom Jung (which the Hildebrandts used as their reference).

And Britain used this piece by Hammer poster stalwart Tom Chantrell, (which is possibly why it features Peter Cushing). And it is utterly magnificent for completely different reasons.

The Hildebrandt art was instead used widely on merchandise from T-Shirts to Clarke's shoes to an art print and the public quickly recognised what the studios had not. It might not have been in cinema lobbies but was hanging in bedrooms everywhere and became, then and forever more, the definitive Star Wars poster.

In the panic and anxiety leading up to Star Wars' release in 1977, Lucasfilm apparently decided that the Jung artwork (with its snarling Vader) was 'too dark' and so Fox hired fantasy artists Tim and Greg Hildebrandt, to paint their own interpretation. But they evidently didn't think to provide them with reference of Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill.
The Hildebrandts were twin artists with painting styles so similar that promotional material of the time suggests that they each painted one side of the resulting poster. Greg Hildebrandt recalls:
“The reason they called us is because Tim and I had just done the Lord of the Rings calendar, and we had a fan following. We had come through literally overnight for them on a poster for Young Frankenstein. It wasn’t used, but we did it overnight, so they called us and said we need a poster fast.”
The Hildebrandt's created their original painting in just 36 hours, but revealed a last minute amendment at the director's bequest: "George Lucas asked for the droids to be added and for our signatures to be larger. We made those changes at the ad agency, and off it went!”

Where are the droids you're looking for?
Although the finished poster wasn't used in US cinemas,  Japan, Norway and Israel merged accurate likenesses of Fisher and Hamill with the Hildebrandt art in their own campaigns. However, Tim and Greg eventually had their day fifteen years later when their painting was finally used in theatres to promote a Star Wars anniversary re-release.

And for many of us, there will always be an alternative Star Wars universe where the rebel attack on the Death Star was launched from Tatooine, Luke spent a lot of time at the gym and Leia's dress sported a most unPrincess-like split right up to her royal navel.

Happy Star Wars day!

No comments:

Post a Comment