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Gotta Dance! Vintage Movie Posters

Vintage movie posters, some quite rare in content and size, are among more than 40 from Europe and the United States on view in Thousand Oaks, at the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art.

The free exhibit is “intended to represent every single major movie dance star,” said collection owner Mike Kaplan to a couple of dozen guests at the by-invitation opening, at California Lutheran University. Kaplan’s purposeful collection underscores that “posters, from this period, are a legitimate form of art that’s never been recognized.”

Moreover, Kaplan’s lofty dream is that such movie posters “not be a sidebar of popular culture, and that perhaps, painting and illustration may once again become part of today’s movie poster mix.”  You can see why, for some of the framed works are “great posters from great films.” The Italian “Singin’ in the Rain” by Nano. The British “Red Shoes.” The Belgian “42nd Street.” The French “Carefree (Amanda)” by Vandor, depicting fabled hoofers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

International, with the United States and Europe represented, this “The Golden Era” of movie cinema poster spans 1930s to 1950s. Producer, director, writer, actor Kaplan was, for example, promotion coordinator on “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). He was a longtime friend of legendary Robert Altman, whose 20th anniversary of Altman’s “Short Cuts” was commemorated Nov. 9 by the American Cinemateque; it screened “Short Cuts” along with a documentary about its making. Kaplan was associate producer of that documentary.

Altman’s vivacious daughter, Konni Corriere of Marina Del Rey, was at Kaplan’s shoulder, thoughtfully suggesting he tell a fascinated onlooker (me) about one poster featuring the famous Nicolas Brothers. Turns out cultural attitudes, sadly, accounted for the fact the United States poster was different than its European version.

In the collector’s program notes, Kaplan reminisced, “Maybe I was born with a poster gene. As a child in Providence, R.I., I’d remove the full-page theater ads announcing a new play or musical from The Sunday New York Times, color them with paints or pastels and then compare the results with the printed versions when I visited New York with my parents… I loved movies and movie posters equally and studied both.”

That passion accelerated when in 1965 Kaplan joined the film industry, offering easier access to new film poster favorites, an era “when a poster’s key art, along with the (movie) trailer were the main advertising tools in attracting audiences.”

Per Kaplan, “The ideal movie poster is a microcosm of the movie itself.” Sketching the evolution of posters, Kaplan said that just as album covers became works of art, he wanted the same for movie posters. So much so that with its “complex and competing elements,” Kaplan reported that “nearly every poster took longer to produce than actually making the film.  As an independent distributor in London, I delayed the release of Barbet Schroeder’s “The Valley (La Vallee) for a year until Philip Castle’s airbrush artwork was finalized.” Who knew.
Another riveting observation. “During WWII, artists could not sell their art so they were used as movie posters,” said Kaplan.

Pausing to study each poster were Henri and Stacey Monschein of Agoura Hills. Stacey, owner of a retail western store, said she “was enjoying posters from another era and Europe. They show a lot of movement and color and put a smile on your face.”

Kaplan’s poster collection has taken its own tour of tony spots, from New York to Los Angeles (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Yet, said curator Kaplan of the William Rolland Gallery, “Of all my shows, this is the best venue these have been displayed in because it is so well designed and lit.”

Museum curator is Jeff Phillips. See “The Art of the Dance Movie Poster From the Mike Kaplan Collection” at the gallery 60 W. Olsen Rd, Thousand Oaks 91360. For hours, call (805) 493-3697 or visit Admission is free.

Better yet, come from 2 to 4 p.m., Sat., Feb. 1 for “Tea and Talk With Collector Mike Kaplan.” At the gallery, adjacent to the William Roland Stadium.