Died Young, Stayed Pretty

Died Young, Stayed Pretty

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Do you ever stop in the street to notice posters? Is your interest ever caught by the palimpsest murals promoting generations of bands? Do you feel excited by vivid designs or frustrated by clich├ęd ones? How much do you know about how poster art began?

Back in the 1970s, before fly-posting was banned in most places, a small group of US and Canadian artists broke new ground by taking the pervasive ideas of popular culture, both old and new, and recycling them into shocking images. Putting these images in public places in city centres brought their powerful ideas to the attention of people who would never have considered going into art galleries, yet at the same time some of them viewed themselves as anti-art, as deliberately reactionary and destructive. They were the visual equivalent of the music that was punk. Like punk, they were gradually appropriated and corporatised, their ideas ransacked even when they managed to resist the lure of money as individuals, but for a brief period of time the scene they created was something that really mattered, something that changed the way people thought.

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Died Young, Stayed Pretty is a documentary that is colourful in every sense. Packed with stunning art and full of sharp insights into the artistic process, it's also full of interviews with fascinating characters. Some of them have no largely retired and are waiting for present day culture to produce something as interesting; others continue to work passionately, but in other areas. All agree that poster culture was a thing of its time, but it was a thing that meant the world to them. They are not elitists. Few made any money. Many of them created posters for bands they had no personal connection with, just because they were inspired by related ideas or because they though those bands ought to be more famous. Some are cynical, some enthusiastic; all are outspoken and humorous and intriguing.

Rather than presenting us with the usual smooth, tightly focused documentary format, this film borrows something of the spirit of its subjects, jumping around and assembling ideas at a tangent to one another. We see its interviewees going about their day to day lives, having to run off because they forgot they had food in the oven, buying ice cream, commenting on the world around them. We see them shuffle awkwardly when they forget what they intended to see, but for the most part they have lots to express, and the film has tremendous energy.

If you've ever bought an album because you liked the cover art only to find that the band couldn't live up to it, this film is for you.

Reviewed on: 08 Oct 2009
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A look at the short but spectacular life of North American punk poster art.
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Director: Eileen Yaghoobian

Starring: Ames Brothers, Art Chantry, Brian Chippendale, Clayton Hayes, Tom Hazelmyer, Rob Jones

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Canada

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