A life size statue of a man — arms crossed — stands at the top of a red velvet staircase. His toned, golden body overlooks posters from some of the greatest films in history. Depicting timeless classics and their worthy competitors, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ display of 80 best picture nominee posters comes at a time when the Academy’s decision to nominate 10 films for this year’s best picture category has everyone talking.
Having 10 films on the ballot instead of only five might seem weird in today’s context, but it’s not unprecedented. The Academy has done this before — for eight years in a row.
“The More the Merrier” exhibit in Beverly Hills is proof that the Academy is no stranger to having 10 best picture nominees. To ease this generation’s movie fans into the long-standing concept, the exhibit contains rare posters of the 10 best picture nominees from the years 1936 to 1943. The posters include releases from around the world and range in shape, size and technique. The posters not only represent the nominees but also showcase some of the best and most underrated art of the ’30s and ’40s.
“The pinnacle of movie poster collecting is finding a great poster for a great film” said Mike Kaplan, who owns the majority of the collection. “There are a lot of good posters for bad movies.”
The exhibit is a glimpse of a time that many of us will never know — when film was the major form of media. It shows the actors and actresses who live the lives of Hollywood royalty. Stars such as Deanna Derban, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Bette Davis are eternally captured in promotional items for the movies that made them famous. The time period these posters come from marks the height of Hollywood glamor and represents a lifestyle that stars today still strive to recreate.
This Golden Age of Hollywood is alive and well in the exhibit room. The red carpets, dim lighting and large crowd of eager viewers matches the hype that surrounded the release of each one of the films represented. With the lights focused on each individual masterpiece, it isn’t hard to see why Kaplan has a passion for collecting posters from this period.
“The design element is what attracts me to the poster — the illustrated point of view,” Kaplan said.
Out of the 80 pieces that are on display, Kaplan provided 76 of them from his personal accumulation. The Academy was able to find the last four and complete his unique collection for the exhibit.
Once the Oscar-detailed front doors to the exhibit building open, visitors are greeted by a The More the Merrier (1943) poster. A gorgeous blonde actress and seven other smiling women tucked into a bed provide a warming beginning to the cinematic tour. Kaplan said he chose this image as the opening poster — and exhibit’s namesake — because it had a beautiful use of color and design.
“The More the Merrier poster also has eight ladies, and the number of years in the exhibit is eight, so it seemed like the best representation,” Kaplan said.
On the next wall, the age-old love story of Romeo and Juliet (1936) is captured in the form of a vibrant three-sheet restored poster. This particular poster uses dramatic colors and large paintings of both characters to draw the viewer’s attention.
“It’s a jaw dropper,” Kaplan said.
One reason the posters from this period can be seen as works of art is that studios were very independent then, employing their own designers and artists for all their posters.
“[Warner Brothers] is one of my favorites,” Kaplan said. “They used very elegant art deco styles that are compelling and dramatic.”
On the other hand, 20th Century Fox put the themes of each of their films into its posters with the essence of each film and the main scenes accurately portrayed in every image.
The posters hang on every surface of the large exhibition room and lobby, with no pillar or wall spared. But, like the movies they introduce, each poster is unique and tells a different story. For example, during the ’30s and ’40s, most studios used elaborate trade ads to sell their films, while others used only a hint of color and details.
Films such as The Little Foxes (1941) used its female lead (Bette Davis) to advertise their movies. At a time when colored film was just coming into existence, color was key to promoting films. And most of the posters that are on display demonstrate that with a wide variety of colors mixed together to create eye-catching scenes.
An original painting of a scene from Gone with the Wind (1939) is paired with the film’s poster, showing the talent and time that went into each one of these promotional tools. The detailed portraits of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara bring home the power and passion of the film.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) uses bright primary colors with tiny characters woven into the title’s words in order to catch the attention of both children and adults. The original movie poster for this American childhood classic shows a distorted yet fascinating perspective of the movie.
With the Oscars inching closer, “The More The Merrier” showcases some of the best films to grace Hollywood. Perhaps one of this year’s 10 best picture nominees will make a worthy addition to Kaplan’s collection someday, but one must only see the blazing sunset of Gone with the Wind or the icy gaze of The Little Foxes’ Bette Davis to know these films are a hard act to follow. Regardless, both movie buffs and art lovers can experience a glimpse of a beautiful past with “The More the Merrier.”