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Hollywood's Gold age of posters celebrated

A west London gallery will celebrate the genius of the movie poster artist Bill Gold, 89, with an exhibition of his original work including such classics as Dial M for Murder and My Fair Lady.

Take a moment to consider your favourite films of the past five years. Now try to visualise the posters for them. Difficult, isn't it? But visit any poster sale, or the home of a cineaste bent on showing off his impeccable taste, and there'll almost certainly be posters from A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry and The Exorcist.

Those designs have become classics - and not just because they're associated with cult films. They're the work of one man who's done more than anyone else to make film posters an art form.

Bill Gold is now 89, and from tomorrow a west London gallery will celebrate his genius with an exhibition of his original poster artwork. The very different images of such classics as Dial M for Murder and My Fair Lady, both of which feature at The Reel Poster Gallery, immediately demonstrate that there was actually no such thing as a Gold "style" - his real gift was to adapt his work to tell the story and invoke the mood and feel of a film.

In an era of online trailers and viral marketing, posters might not seem such an important part of the promotion of a film - which is probably why they're not so memorable these days. But in the days before the web, they were crucial.

The exhibition also marks the launch of the lavish book, Bill Gold: Posterworks. The master edition, a volume celebrating his best work and containing six limited-edition prints, is available until tomorrow at the bargain price of 350 (Dh2,000); after that it'll cost you 400. If that isn't expensive enough, then perhaps you might like to consider the deluxe edition; 1,000 buys a limited-edition with a signed photograph of Clint Eastwood, taken by Gold.

If anyone deserves the ridiculously expensive coffee-table book treatment, it's Gold. He began his career at the Warner Bros art department in 1940s New York, and it wasn't long before he was making his name with the poster for Casablanca. It was immediately an iconic image: Humphrey Bogart in trademark trench coat and fedora, gun in hand, face half in shadow. Bogart looked every bit the intriguing hero of the film, and the importance of the composition cannot be underestimated. The image had one job; to entice people into the cinema. It did so spectacularly.

Gold became hot property, designing posters for The Big Sleep in 1946, with its blockbusting promise of "Bogart and Bacall", and A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. The latter is fascinating, essentially a trailer on paper: Marlon Brando grabs hold of Vivien Leigh while the text screams "One Of The Scenes That Make It So Great". Work followed from Hitchcock and John Huston, and by 1962 Gold was so in demand that he set up Bill Gold Advertising and struck out on his own.

Despite images that have become synonymous with 1960s cool - the stylish burnt orange hues of the Cool Hand Luke poster, the cut-up collage of Terence Young's Wait Until Dark - it was Gold's 1970s work that really cemented his reputation. The director Stanley Kubrick was very particular about the design for A Clockwork Orange, and it was a classic, the brutally sharp image a perfect representation of this dystopian film. The typeface Kubrick chose is still referred to as the "Clockwork Orange font".

The same year, Gold produced the Dirty Harry poster, which was the beginning of a long working relationship with Clint Eastwood. Look at it now and it's easy to see why it's lasted; as Eastwood points the gun at the viewer, he looks gleefully mean.

Gold went on to design the posters for every film Eastwood directed up to Mystic River in 2003. This was a typical Gold design to mark his retirement, striking but mindful of its real purpose: to sell the film to an audience. So the three strange silhouettes are not just an arty affectation - they represent the three boys at the heart of the Oscar-nominated movie. They are, naturally, reflected on a river.

Eastwood provides the foreword to Posterworks, writing: "The first image you have of many of your favourite films is probably a Bill Gold creation." And it's true; Gold also worked on Platoon, The Untouchables and Alien, with its immortal tag line, "in space, no one can hear you scream", in large lettering on the poster.

To judge by the artwork for the current Oscar-holder, The Hurt Locker (essentially just a bomb-disposal man photographed from above, surrounded by loads of hyperbolic quotes), they just don't make them like they used to.

To order Bill Gold: Posterworks go to www.reelartpress.com

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