American Artifact, FilmBar, 7/30/12
American Artifact (2009)
American Artifact, directed by Merle Becker, 2009
Directed by Merle Becker
Monday, July 30, 2012
See also: 10 Awesome Concert Posters at SXSW's Flatstock 33
In recent years there have been a slew of rockumentaries about long gone golden eras, from the disappearance of the mom and pop record store thanks to the big chain stores, to the obliteration of freeform radio thanks to corporate intervention and the death of sampling due to the litigious climate preventing its creative use now. Happily, American Artifact, the 2009 overview of the American rock poster, shows a niche in pop culture that has continued to thrive without the infusion or intrusion of corporate dollars.
Frank Kozik, one of the most irreverent of the latter poster artists (his iconic Soundgarden "Green Girl" poster he confesses took all of a half-hour to put together), at one points says his motivation is to provoke people into saying, "How can this exist? Who the fuck made this? " This movie illustrates time and time again how some of best fine art can be found where no one is expecting to see it.
Director Merle Becker takes us to the very beginning of rock, where concert posters created by local promoters were exactly like boxing posters with large block letters and disembodied heads. These posters, more artifact than art, were not expressions of a fan's enthusiasm for his favorite groups.
That didn't happen until the poster art explosion in the '60s, where San Francisco ballroom concerts promoted by Bill Graham or Chet Helms brought us the psychedelic eye challenging art of Alton Kelley, Stanley "Mouse" Miller, Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, and Rick Griffin, considered the "Big Five" of the movement. Ironically, one of the most punk rock moments of this documentary is when Moscoco outlines all the rules of traditional poster making and how he and his hippie contemporaries obliterated them by using vibrating colors, illegible (if you weren't stoned) typography, and eye-fatiguing layouts that required intense and slow scrutiny.