American Artifact: The Rise Of American Rock Poster Art – Review

Bored of her comfortable corporate job and carrying a huge affection for rock poster art, director Merle Becker decided to quit work and go on a road-trip around America to learn some more about the origins and the people behind the posters she loved. Funded from her own pocket this is a document of love, not just her own, but of the passion that these artists have for rock music and how they express it through their frankly astonishingly beautiful and varied artwork.

Becker’s journey is merely a bookend to the film itself, a fluid talking heads documentary that travels from the birth of the teenager at the tail-end of the 1950s right up to modern times in its exploration of the people and aesthetic behind poster art. From the hypnotic, eye-melting posters of 60s’ psychedelia and some insights into staggeringly simple yet effective technique (Victor Moscoso’s ‘moving’ posters being a real standout), we discover the origins and the heroes of the underground poster scene. How they became responsible for a visual cue that almost goes unnoticed, indeed the style of the posters themselves seems to be how we remember – or pretend to remember – the era. And it’s a style that continues to be aped today; see the Super Furry Animals recent album artwork for clues.

It’s surprising then to see the ‘death’ of the poster come the end of the 60s, with the 1970s practically untouched in Becker’s documentary. Instead we leap forward to the punk boom of the 80s were a anti-establishment, wry DIY aesthetic took over; with photocopiers in every corner store and a desire to mock the government (and counter the bland, bombast of 80’s stadium rock) the punk scene – and this segment of the film – is the most powerful and inspiring.

Throughout this film you can see and feel the passion and commitment in each of the artist’s eyes, that although – as is often reiterated – they did this for barely a dime they feel rich and fulfilled creatively. Whatever crotchety remarks may slip forth from 90s luminaries like Art Chantry or Frank Kozik, it’s plain as day that they adore the music they barely get paid to advertise. With the camera lingering almost fetishistically over the posters they speak about it’s truly a treat for music and art lovers; it’s practically rock poster pornography!

The labours of love pay off for Becker, who began work on this film in 2005, and hopefully this compelling and pacy documentary – though basically a history lesson – will find a strong audience in the music community and the scenes that strive to recapture that DIY movement. Even more so, as Becker points out in her production notes, she has made a film that is truly inspiring regardless of your thoughts for the art involved. Kozik’s closing statement about going out and doing what you want to do resonates with whatever creative desires or ambitions we may have, and leaves the film on a wonderful optimistic and positive note.

American Artifact – Website

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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