NEW YORK, NY.- Batiste Madalena: Hand-Painted Film Posters for the Eastman Theatre, 19241928 presents the work of the artist Batiste Madalena (American, b. Italy, 19021988), who was hired by George Eastman during the late period of silent cinema, from 1924 to 1928, to design and hand-paint film posters for the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, New York. In advance of seeing the films themselves, Madalena would work with still photographs, press materials, and his passion for particular performers to create one-of-a-kind posters promoting larger-than-life subjects, all on a scale that could be clearly seen from cars passing the theaters outdoor poster vitrines. Working alone over a four-year period and against deadlines that required as many as eight new posters a week for each change of bill, Madalena created over 1,400 original works before the end of his tenure, when the theater changed management. Approximately 250 of these posters survived when the artist himself rescued them from the trash behind the theater.
Madalenas rediscovery in the 1980s brought his brilliantly colored, singular designs, done in tempera paint on paper board, to the attention of critics and collectors, and soon made him one of the most celebrated advertising artists for moving pictures. This exhibition consists of 53 posters drawn from institutional and private lenders, as well as The Museum of Modern Arts collection. The exhibition is on view in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters Lobby Galleries from October 15, 2008, through April 6, 2009. The exhibition, and the accompanying film series, is organized by Ron Magliozzi, Assistant Curator, and Jenny He, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
When it opened in 1922 with 3,350 seats, the Eastman Theatre was the third largest cinema in the United States, and the flagship in a first-run chain that included other Rochester, New York theaters the Piccadilly (2,200), the Regent (1,800), and the art-house Kilbourn Hall (500). To fill seats at the Eastman, it was determined that a polished, one-of-a-kind variety program was needed to distinguish its offerings from those of competitors. Each weekly presentation, timed at about 90 minutes, was tailored to include musical interludes, a newsreel, a one-reel comedy, a thematic stage piece such as The Boastful Braggart -Madalenas poster for which is included in this exhibitionand a feature film that was often edited or projected at an increased running speed to fit the bill.
Charged with producing posters as unusual as the Eastmans carefully assembled programs, Madalenas work had to be forceful and effective as a selling tool, but also high-class and artful, with less of the messy narrative content and nineteenth-century sensationalism that characterized mass-produced film posters in the previous decade. Working to fill six outdoor vitrines, he developed a streamlined, Art Deco style that enlivened the staid, neoclassical facade of the theater building. Having studied with influential advertising artist J. C. Leyendecker (American, 18741951) at the Mechanics Institute of Rochester, Madalena adopted various conventions of print art that bear comparison with the commercial work of Ludwig Hohlwein (German, 18741949), and cover artist C. Coles Phillips (American, 1880-1927), who were masters of a fadeaway technique that tied figures into a background by color and pattern. Taking up this practice allowed Madalena to use a minimum of outline and the pre-printed color of his drawing surface to help him cope with a relentless production schedule.
The Madalena posters in this exhibition are rare examples of exhibitor commissioned film advertising. Often his work falls within the familiar traditions of motion picture advertising: targeting audiences of men (Old Ironsides) or women (Upstage), highlighting genres like melodrama (The Kid Brother) or comedy (Clothes Make the Pirate), and using color to communicate the mood of a filmfiery orange for the passionate The Loves of Carmen and blue for the somber prison drama The Noose. In other instances, Madalena surprises with decorative abstraction (The Thundering Herd), silhouette effects (A Thief in Paradise), counterintuitive humor (The Cossacks), and the witty blending of paint and collage (The Freshman). His restrictive, geometric motif for the tragic Variety and his choice of the color pink for the dinosaur adventure The Lost World seem avant-garde in the context of early motion picture advertising. Throughout his work, Madalenas skill at freehand lettering is evident.
Batiste Madalena and the Cinema of the 1920s
Presented in conjunction with the gallery exhibition is Batiste Madalena and the Cinema of the 1920s, a film series featuring a selection of movies for which the artist created film posters. His work brings unexpected color and a new perspective to the iconic stars and films of silent cinema's mature period. Rarely screened titles include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers Russian melodrama The Cossacks (1928); the epic Old Ironsides (1926); the surviving reels of Paramount's adaptation of the George S. Kaufman/Marc Connelly comedy Beggar on Horseback (1925); the preserved reel of The Wanderer (1925); the dinosaur adventure The Lost World (1925); and the "Our Gang" comedies Shivering Spooks (1926) and Sundown Ltd. (1924). Among those represented in the series are directors James Cruze (Old Ironsides, Beggar on Horseback); Josef von Sternberg (Underworld); Cecil B. DeMille (The Volga Boatman); and performers Greta Garbo (The Mysterious Lady); W. C. Fields (Sally of the Sawdust); Lon Chaney (The Unknown); John Gilbert (The Cossacks); Emil Jannings (Variety); John Barrymore (Beau Brummel); Harold Lloyd (The Freshman); and Pola Negri (Hotel Imperial).
Music for the series is performed by internationally renowned silent film accompanists Ben Model on the Miditzer organ, and Philip Carli on the piano. Mr. Carli is an expert on the Eastman Theatre and he will speak briefly on its history before each of his performances.
This film series is on view October 20, 2008, through March 14, 2009, in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters and The Celeste Bartos Theater.