When I decided to spend a long weekend at Bodega Bay in California I did not realise that I was visiting a sacred place for all Alfred Hitchcock fans! At the visitor’s centre, I saw almost all the memorabilia (T-shirts, fridge magnets, shot glasses and guide books) related to the iconic movie, The Birds.
In his own words, the legendary filmmaker had called it “the most terrifying motion picture” he had ever made. I remember watching the movie almost a decade ago and being amazed at how something as harmless as birds could be used in a plot to terrify people. I had picked up numerous lobby cards (they are generally printed in sets of eight) of Hitchcock movies, including The Birds, from mutton street, Chor Bazaar, Mumbai, never anticipating that I would one day visit the place where the movie was shot.
The Birds debuted as Hitchcock’s first horror/fantasy film. It has come to be known as a precursor to modern horror movies and marks the first time that cinematic animals acted in an organised attack on humans. Mechanical and live trained birds were used in the film, along with optically altered film overlay of flying birds (composites). The film took almost three years to complete before it was released in 1963.
The Tides restaurant, Potter school and St Theresa church used during the filming still find visitors wanting to be a part of The Birds history. Though the filming happened more than 50 years ago, it still has an impact on the little hamlets of Bodega Bay and Bodega. As always, I wanted to own unique memorabilia and was looking for something original. The closest I could get was an original photograph of Alfred Hitchcock, taken on location while filming the movie. After a long search, I managed to get an original poster of the movie signed by actress Tippi Hedren.
The movie The Girl, starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller playing Hedren, deals with the tense days on the set of The Birds. The director apparently went too far with Hedren, putting her through a terrifying time as the birds were set loose around her. When he began shooting, Hitchcock was still bitter about losing his favourite leading lady, Grace Kelly. Kelly had stopped acting and the director missed casting her for The Birds. Also, he had just completed Psycho, his first really big box-office hit, and he was keen to repeat that success with The Birds, and Hedren had to bear the brunt of his expectations.
It was his wife, Alma, who suggested Hedren, a model then. The horror begins with the famous scene when Hedren is attacked savagely by birds in the attic. Hitchcock had assured the actress that the attack would be faked, but when he said “Action!” a flock of birds was goaded into pecking her. And he repeated this take after take. Hedren decided she’ll somehow finish her scenes. And with great courage, she outsmarted Hitchcock by not displaying fear or looking intimidated – exactly what the director hoped to provoke in her. Hitchcock had managed to scare his stars before by such tactics, but not Hedren.
Today, it is much easier to print out a movie poster and get it signed by the actors/actress. I remember bidding for a La La Land poster signed by Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle, just before the Academy Awards were featured. Like every collectible, there is an event/occasion/milestone which acts as a catalyst and massively increases the price of the object. An Academy award, as I discovered, surely acts as a catalyst for value of movie posters, similar to what a Nobel Prize or a Booker Prize does for books!
One of the reasons why movie posters from the past act as collectibles is that they were never intended for public circulation, but were only meant to be given to distributors who would then use them to advertise the movie to the public. Only a fixed number of posters in each size were printed, unless the movie was re-released. However, over the years, reproduction posters (which are merely reproductions of an actual original poster) are more widely circulated. Some movie posters have been reproduced by poster manufacturers for mass marketing. A poster producer merely takes a photograph of an old poster and reproduces it on poster stock.
A wave of nostalgia during the Sixties and Seventies for vintage 30s posters led to prolific poster reproductions, creating a new market for movie posters. Everyone has their own romanticised memories of watching movies and interesting anecdotes associated with them. My earliest memories include hearing about a new movie being released on a Friday, loudly announced in Hindi (I would often mimic the announcement!), from an auto rickshaw with a movie poster hung on both sides. I vividly remember little children chasing the rickshaw and collecting the paper notice that the announcer threw at the children.
I have often been asked the question – do I buy movie posters to fuel my passion to collect or as an investment? Investing and collecting are two entirely different activities. Success in one area does not imply success in the other. I collect movie posters to remember a place, an occasion or an experience. Next, it is about the chase and search of a particular poster and the thrill I feel when I procure it. I have got some good posters at throwaway prices, since they were not valuable from an investment perspective.
When the third movie in the Hunger Games trilogy, The Mocking Jay Part 1released, I got the poster and it was signed by all the actors. The most precious one for me, however, is the one I got personally signed. The original movie poster of the classic Hindi film, Kashmir ki Kali, was signed by Sharmila Tagore during one of the talks that I had hosted. An interesting reference book on movie posters is Bollywood Posters by Jeremy Pinto & Sheena Sippy.
An unusual but priceless poster in my collection is not a movie poster at all! It is, instead, a poster celebrating this book — a modern children’s classic, widely considered as the most influential children’s picture book, Where the Wild Things Are by the inimitable Maurice Sendak. This poster was published in 2002 by the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, which has a large holding of rare Sendak items. It was not originally signed, but a fan of the book seems to have somehow managed to meet or run into Sendak and had it autographed. Signed copies of Where the Wild Things Are are expensive, especially if it is a first edition.
This item though, is rarer, because I can’t imagine many signed Sendak posters of this controversial book. It was considered controversial for a long time because parents were worried that children might not know what to make of the story and the illustrations. On the other hand, children felt they had finally found a picture book that did not treat its readers condescendingly, that respected their imagination and intelligence. Sendak’s secret is that he is able to enter the emotions and feelings of a child and draw and write from there. The book has been adapted several times in several mediums, most recently as an acclaimed Hollywood film.
I would never sell the movies posters I have acquired, as there is a personal story attached to every acquisition. An investor is looking from the beginning for the opportunity to divest; a collector is not. An investor in movie posters is just like an investor in the stock market. For movie poster investors, there is a certain market, considering that the movie poster of Frankenstein was bought for $198,000! For a collector like me, every poster is priceless.