Thursday, 8 August 2013



Well, our dear Stuart Miller-Osborne has once again shown us his genius!  Here we have a brilliant story on the cinema and film publicity.  I have certainly learned a lot from reading Stuart's article and I am sure a lot of you out there in 'Blog Land' will too.  Please enjoy this wonderful story and the fabulous pictures.

Oscar  Deutsch  Entertains Our Nation 

Whether we admit it or not cinema has always been a part of our lives. Each of us has a favourite film and have memories of the first film we saw, or our first date movie. Most couples have a soft spot for a certain film which was watched during those early days together. 

Cinema is all around us. We all live within travelling distance of a cinema. (Hungerford itself had a cinema The Regent until the early 1970s). Films are advertised on the internet, newspapers and magazines, everywhere in fact. When a new blockbuster is opening then billboards are filled at railway stations, the buses in our towns and villages carry advertisements for these films. 

We might think that all this publicity in new and is inspired by the overkill that invades our everyday life, but we could not be more wrong. If anything it is a little quieter these days. It is only that we have more information outlets that makes it seem busier.  

As you will have noted I have given this article the title of  Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation (ODEON) this was the result of his clever marketing teams promotion. This title shortened is very familiar to each of us. It is perhaps the best known chain of cinemas in the country. Although Odeon’s were actually amphitheatres in ancient Greece Oscar Deutsche (1893-1941) one of the initial founders of cinema chains in the country took the name and opened his first Odeon cinema in the Midlands in 1926 and by the mid thirties there were over two hundred around the country. Odeon’s were the last word in luxury and the ultimate film going experience. They were often favoured above the other chains of the time, the ABCs and the Gaumont’s. When we think of Odeon’s we think of Art Deco both inside and out.  

But what may you ask has this got do with antique collecting and visiting antique shops and arcades. It has a great deal in common. Whereas the cinema’s main aim was to show films and like any business make as much money as possible the methods they used to publicise these films were the expendables of the day and the collectables of today. 

Before the mass media we have today when films were about to be released  a publicity campaign was often launched. Each film had to have its own identity. This was done in the main by the use of posters and other publicity material. Films are above all visual and to sell this film then the general public had to be seduced. The film poster was the first step on the road to the cinema. 

Actual film posters pre-dated Oscar Deutsch by many years. They had been used since the early days of film. Rather like the music hall posters they originally listed the programme that was to be found inside of the theatre. As displays became more sophisticated,  illustrations from the actual films were shown or the film was artistically represented 

If the poster was poor then this could have an adverse effect on the number of people who went to see the film. If the poster was memorable then this helped the film immeasurably. This is a simplification but the impact of the poster was very important. 

What I did not know until I researched this article was how tightly the control of film posters was achieved. I supposed that the individual distributors created the posters and sent them to the cinemas and these were like other promotional material discarded after use. They were in fact sent back to the distributors after the films finished their runs. This is in part the reason why there are so many film posters in existence. Normally they were sent on to the next cinema and so on but as normal many found their way to collectors. 

As with a lots of pastimes collecting film posters is considerably more expensive these days than it used to be. The price is determined by the rarity and the condition of the actual poster. I have seen cinema posters being sold for between £250-£400 quite frequently. In the USA some rarer posters are sold for six figures. This is all very different from the early 1970s when film posters were sold for a song in outlets in London and elsewhere. One such dealer I knew was stationed on the edge of Soho near the Charing Cross Road. He had a small position at the end of a clothes shop that sold mostly hippy gear. Downstairs was a record outlet. The rest of the building was used for less mentionable purposes. 

This dealer sold posters and front of house stills for an absolute song. I remember him selling an original fifties poster of The Creature from the Black Lagoon for a couple of quid. He also was selling A Night to Remember for fifty pence. I have since seen these posters sold for considerably more. One could buy all three posters for the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and still have change from a fiver. There were film fairs where one could buy various items of film memorabilia very cheaply. There was one memorable dealer who considered saucy pictures of Ursula Andress more valuable than an original poster of The Ladykillers in pristine condition. In a way these were the halcyon days of collecting.

This is not to say that you will not find copies of film posters without having to pay out a fortune. I do see them from time at jumble sales and boot fairs but these are normally for recent films (1990 to date) and quite often folded which decreases the value. You would be very very lucky to find a good copy of pre 1980s poster. This said, like everything else they are out there it is just about seeking them out.

A slightly cheaper option if you like collecting cinema memorabilia is the collecting of front of house stills. These were scenes from the film which were displayed in the foyer. Some were actually taken from the film, but many of these were actually posed during production. When going to the cinema one would see the stills from the movie showing at the cinema and also the following weeks attraction which would link in with the trailer which would be shown with the film. 

My favourites are the tinted 1950-1960s ones which in my view were always over the top. I remember seeing a set from The Fall of the Roman Empire a few years ago which colour wise were so heavily tinted that either the colourist was a frustrated Fauvist or he was the worse for wear when he tinted the stills. Nevertheless it was great fun. For some reason I have a few front of house still from Last Tango in Paris which were given to me by the manager of the Academy cinema in Oxford Street at the time of its troubled release. These could not be more different and really consist of photographs of Brando and his co-star Maria Schneider. 

Front of house stills (unlike publicity stills which were often photographs of film stars at home or at play) are reasonably easy to find but again (especially if you shop on the internet) you can pay a lot for a good set. It depends on the film and whether you are buying a full set. Usually with stills they came in sets of six but this was not always the case. Obviously individual stills are a lot cheaper that full sets. Stills by their very nature are hard wearing and did not suffer as much damage as film posters and are very much like comic books, you can pay a fortune or buy them cheaply.

Quite often these show up in antique outlets as well as jumble sales etc. It is like everything else, knowing how much you want to spend and what you might find them for elsewhere. If you are collecting film posters or front of house stills then I would as I have noted avoid the internet (the prices are often crazy) and I have noticed that the chic markets in London (Camden, Portobello Road etc) can be expensive. Recently a sole still from a James Bond film signed by one of the Bond girls was being sold for £200 which I thought was a little excessive.

Whilst I have concentrated on film posters and stills quite often other film memorabilia will turn up in antiques outlets. You might find general publicity material such as souvenir booklets or other film tie ins. One might find the actual production material itself, When I was in Kent last year I saw the film script of a Raquel Welch western called Hannie Caulder for sale at quite a reasonable price. At times props from the actual films show up but these can be expensive. You quite often see the costumes used by the stars of certain movies offered at auction. 

What I find more fascinating is when you see parts of the actual cinemas show up. I have seen a collection of cinema seats offered for sale in an antique shop (they looked a well used set of one and nines). Also more recently I saw some exquisite deco up lighters for sale as well as some of the direction indicators that would always glow in the corner of your eye when you were watching your film. When the beautiful Art Deco Odeon cinema in Uxbridge was tragically demolished twenty or so years ago I remember seeing some of the fixtures and fittings appearing in local junk shops a little later. In a way I wish I had purchased some of the smaller items for posterity.  

We have lost a lot of cinemas in the last thirty years or so, but thankfully a large number still exist. Some are still used as cinemas but others have found uses as churches (Northfields (Ealing) and Rayners Lane are examples) others are bingo halls or are used for a variety of events. The important thing is that they have survived. In these enlightened times we are less likely to ignore a demolition order on the local cinema. We have learnt our lessons painfully in the last few years.

This is one of the reasons I believe that collecting cinema posters and stills and other memorabilia is so popular. Whether you like romantic comedies or action films or four hour long black and white Hungarian films about washing machines the magic is there. The anticipation when the house lights dim is still the same. It is just that some people like to take it further and collect things connected with cinema. 

Whilst I love cinema, I do not collect posters or stills being more interested in the actual cinemas themselves. My favourite poster if I had a choice would be legendary poster for the French film Betty Blue made in 1986. It has adorned the walls of student digs ever since.                   

Stuart Miller-Osborne

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