Sam Sarowitz, New York-based movie poster collector, says there’s three reasons people buy film posters: the film, the director, or the star of the film means something to them. For Sarowitz, his collection started because of the encompassing combination of all three. He simply loved the industry.
Sarowitz has collected thousands of posters worth thousands more since he first got interested in film when he was a teenager, working at local movie magazine and movie theaters, and then studying film at Emerson College. He now displays his collection on the upper level of the IFC Center in Greenwich Village in New York City, featuring posters from all over the world and throughout all eras of film. You can find anything from early 1900s films like the 1905 French picture, Salle De L’etoile, to modern animations like Disney’s Brave.
Primarily, Sarowitz’s collection features posters that have an artistic edge to them. You won’t find too many posters of Vin Diesel running from an explosion behind him. Instead, you’ll find detailed pieces of art that beautifully utilize modern graphic design or vintage illustrations, such as one of Sarowitz’s favorite posters in his collection, a 1960s Czech poster of the animated film Dumbo.
Sarowitz says he loves the way vintage poster artists approached films with an expanded view on specific scenes. On the Dumbo poster, abstract illustrations of swirling elephants intertwine their trunks while the letters that spell out the movie’s title bounce around, much like the dancing motions of the film’s characters in the particular scene where Timothy the mouse gets drunk and dances among the elephants. “No other poster I’ve ever seen of the film has anything like that,” Sarowitz said. It’s a stark difference from a modern-day Hollywood film poster, which often features large images of lead actors or simply a snippet of an image from a scene. These vintage and foreign posters, however, allow the artist to dive deeper into the imagery of the film.
“They just gave the artist a tremendous amount of latitude to interpret the film,” Sarowitz said. “In some cases, you’ll look at the poster and wonder if the artist even saw the film. But you certainly won’t be bored.”
Movie-makers also used to depend on the abstract imagery to attract viewers to the theaters. Nowadays, advertisers can reach viewers with television commercials or extensive digital ad campaigns. Before technology advanced, though, movie posters were both literally and figuratively massive forms of promoting a film. “There was no other means of advertising,” Sarowitz noted. But while American advertisers moved on to other mediums, Sarowitz said he still enjoys European film promotions that consistently celebrate the art of film posters.
To him, the difference between foreign movie posters and posters in the United States is that American posters often don’t leave room for artistic interpretation. “I don’t think they trust the person looking at the poster to fill in the blanks,” he said. “They’re just blunt and not particularly interesting.” In countries like Poland, Sarowitz says, there’s museums like the Poster Museum at Wilanów that celebrate what was once a vital part of the film industry.
“Film is one of, if not the most beloved artform of the 20th Century and going into the 21st Century as a mass medium,” Sarowitz said. “A poster on your wall is a way to relive it and remember something that means something to you. That’s the beauty of film: It really touches your emotions and looking at a poster rekindles that.” See more of the works below.
You can explore movie posters from the early 1900s and on via Posteritati’s website here. You can also visit their gallery on the upper level of the IFC Center in New York City every Tuesday through Saturday from 11 AM–7 PM.