Remembering the work of Bill Gold, one of Hollywood’s greatest poster designers

Dirty Harry (1971) by Bill Gold

Creatives from the advertising world reflect on the legacy of Bill Gold, the man behind many of Hollywood’s most iconic poster designs, who died yesterday (20 May) at the age of 97.

Peter Robertson, creative director, Mother

Favourite Gold poster: A Clockwork Orange

When you think of your favourite movie the first thing you think of is the poster – and chances are that poster was designed by Bill Gold – what a legend.

Bill’s favourite phrase was ‘Less is more’, and that philosophy still is the basis for any award-winning poster. And spare a thought for Bill who had to convince 20-30 movie execs to adhere to that philosophy. They’ve got to be way harder to convince than any marketing director.

AK Parker, art director, BBH London

Favourite Gold poster: A Clockwork Orange

Everyone knows how to design a movie poster right? Big title, heroic celebrities, half a page of five star ratings from dubious sources and a great big launch date. That’s not how Bill Gold approached movie marketing. There was no formula. Every poster had its own life and evoked a different feeling.

When filmgoers saw one of his posters they could instantly understand what the film was about and would probably want to see it – b­e it a story about love, deception, or a dystopian nightmare. He managed to capture an emotion and put it on a page in one simple, lasting image. So lasting that if you close your eyes and imagine the poster for Casablanca you can probably still picture it 76 years after the film was released.

With thousands of his posters to choose from, I doubt there is a designer in town who hasn’t been inspired, parodied or ripped one of them off. This is not an insult to the designer but a compliment to Bill’s design legacy. He pioneered an approach to poster design that was original, emotive, simple, memorable and commercial. Since his first poster in 1942 he has forced others to think about design in the same way and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Nick Entwistle, founder, Bank of Creativity

Favourite Gold posters: Barbarella and A Clockwork Orange

Coming from a graphic design background myself, I used to be inspired by the likes of Saul Bass and Bill Gold's movie posters as they were always so well-crafted using hand-drawing and screen-printing. Nowadays everything is done on a computer and just doesn't have the impact. These are the types of posters people have up on their walls at home and I don't believe that will happen in years to come with today's posters.

However, I do feel that the impact he had is that people constantly draw reference to the classic film posters of the past that he created.

Blending design and commerce is difficult and he captured audiences perfectly by enticing them into cinemas with his beautiful depictions of some legendary films. He won lots of awards for his work and turned the creation of movie posters into an art form that people still aspire to today.

Dave Buonaguidi, artist and co-founder of Unltd

Favourite Gold poster: Marathon Man

Gold worked or some great projects – seminal movies that absolutely defined the culture of an era. It goes without saying that I was massively inspired and influenced by his work.

Film posters and album covers were very powerful properties back in those days. Modern movie posters are a bit ‘show-and-tell’, but back then, the artist creating that poster or album cover would interpret the content in their own way. There was a lot of artistic licence.

His work is very distinctive and so expressive, but also very simple. He used a range of styles, photography, and illustration, but for me, his best work could capture the plot and essence of the movie without telling the whole story, with a single image and a couple of words.

Sophie Szilady & Sophia Johnson, creatives, Iris

Favourite Gold poster: A Clockwork Orange

Bill Gold – what a guy. We may not have been around for the first 50 years or so of his career but his work remains as impactful as the day it was created. Gold's posters are a beautiful example of blurring the line between art and advertising. It's the stuff people really care about – the sort of thing they really want on their walls.

He captured so much information and emotion into every single one of his pieces, without giving too much away; that’s what inspires us. This work isn't going anywhere, and that's the magic of brilliant creativity - it lives on beyond the artist.

Stephen Lepitak, editor of The Drum (and unashamed movie nerd)

Favourite Gold poster: The Exorcist

Oddly I was thinking about the original poster for The Exorcist just last month as the stage play is currently running in London. It works perfectly for the play simply because Father Merrick, the titular exorcist, could be played by anyone. The central figure is not distinctive, nor does he look a powerful enough figure to take on the devil incarnate.

I’ve always viewed the poster for The Exorcist as an outstanding piece of storytelling, never mind an iconic image in itself. It’s difficult to express what I think in full about this piece of work by Gold, simply because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know it as a piece of popular culture, a bit like the Star Wars poster by Drew Struzan. It’s always been a part of my life somehow.

I saw this movie at a young age (my parents never found out) when it was still banned on video in Britain, and right now while writing this, I wish I could have seen this poster before knowing what the film itself was about. By the time I had first seen it I would have known the storyline and seen the revolving head of Linda Blair and the projectile vomiting.

But this poster doesn’t prepare you for any of the experience of The Exorcist. And I love it more for that. It explains why so many were overwhelmed when they first saw the film – it underplays the horror, but pin points to the audience just how important the room, the light shining out of will play. How clever is that to underplay the horror elements, when today would have been every inch of the poster’s marketing.

Just sit and look at it for a minute or two. It’s an incredible piece of advertising.

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