The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a major gift of 1,088 historically significant B-movie posters from Hollywood's golden age.
The donation is full of fun, historically important posters that bring alive the story of the B movie: Blazing Sixes, Bad Man of Brimstone, Primrose Path, Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross, Babies for Sale, Boy Slaves, Ten Nights in a Barroom.
The last three titles exemplify the kind of social problem and exploitation films Hollywood churned out in the '20s and '30s that were meant to shock, entertain and ultimately rouse viewers to action.
The collection also encompasses Westerns, romance, biblical tales and early serials from the late teens. It spans the years 1914 to 1953, but the bulk is from the the mid-'30s through the end of World War II.
And though the AMPAS collection already includes about 46,000 posters, Annie Coco, the Academy's graphic arts librarian, says the donation is important. "It fills in holes in our collection. What's great about this is its the stuff most people don't collect on."
Coco adds, "Movie posters were never meant to be kept, never meant to be looked at as art. They were considered disposable, especially B-movie posters."
The donation gives a hint of what role poster exhibitions may play in the planned AMPAS Museum, which is set to open in 2016. The academy has raised about $100 million of a projected $250 million in startup costs for the project.
"My assumption is that posters will play some part of the exhibitions and given the depth of the collection will be able to do quite a few things," says Coco, including special showings on topics like African-American history or Soviet Bloc cinema or genres such as Westerns.
The collection will be housed in the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, where it will be available for use by scholars (for example, to trace the evolution of films focused on social problems or to look at how a movie like Casablanca was marketed across different countries).
The donation was a gift from Chicago real estate developer Dwight Cleveland, a well-known collector who bought his first poster in 1977 while still in high school.
“I really think that film posters are one of the very few truly indigenous art forms of our country,” Cleveland says. “By making these gifts, I hope to excite an appreciation for the works themselves among members of the general public and also set a good example for other collectors.”
“Dwight’s collection was a dream to receive. Not only was it very well organized, but the posters also were in excellent shape. Our staff is fairly certain he was a librarian in another lifetime,” adds Coco.