Dr. Israel Perry, a poster dealer, collector and book publisher, began collecting movie posters for his own pleasure. As he writes in the introduction to the book about this collection, Beauty and the Beast, “after buying more than two dozen movie posters, I noticed the repetition of a distinct image in which a man, a robot or even an animal is holding a woman in his arms.” Dr. Perry goes on to point out that although this trope “which reflects enduring man-to-woman relationships, which is based on love, regardless of its kind . . . [he] quickly discovered that this posture had an evil twist.”
El Vampiro, Mexico, 1957. Estimate $800 to $1,200.
That a subconscious impulse may have originally caught Dr. Perry’s fancy is entirely possible as there is something fundamentally primal about the premise and the fantasy these images convey. Like a psychological lightning rod they attract our attention with a veiled electrical charge, eliciting within us a curious sense of forbidden glee.
What I find most interesting is that the chord these images strike is not some marketing technique created by Hollywood art studios. While damsels in distress have been a staple since the dawn of movies, the idea of savage, barbaric men making off with women is a theme that predates the origins of film.
H.R. Hopps’s Destroy This Mad Brute / Enlist, circa 1917. Estimate $12,000 to $18,000. This wartime poster may have been the inspiration for King Kong.
A brief examination shows that the theme has resonated throughout the centuries, pervading the consciousness of Western society.
From perhaps as early as 750BC with the Rape of the Sabine Women, society has been transfixed by this concept, which has borne some exceptional artistic fruit.
The formidable strength of its mystique is illustrated by the innumerable ways it has reoccurred over the centuries in mythology, paintings, sculpture and literature. Perhaps most prophetically–at least from the perspective of these movie posters–was French sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet’s 1887 Medal of honor-winning statue entitled “Gorilla Carrying off a Woman” at the Parisian Salon.
We might interpret it as a rape fantasy, or as a “hot stranger sex fantasy,” we recognize the inherent taboo of yielding control to a greater power, and the psychological twist of the Spanish prisoner wherein the captive falls in love with their captor–clearly there is something foreboding yet appealing enough for this theme to constantly appear in popular culture.
Tarzan / L’Homme Singe, 1932. Estimate $400 to $600.
This auction isn’t about probing into the world’s cumulative sexualpsyche. Our intention wasn’t to tap into some emotional zeitgeist. This auction is first and foremost an assemblage of entertaining images–some campy, some disturbing, some thrilling–all quite effective at selling their product.
That they may tickle our fancy on a baser level is an added bonus.