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Books illustrate art of communicating via posters

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The Poster, A Worldwide Survey and History, by Alain Weill. Boston: G. K. Hall. 422 pp. $35. The International Film Poster, by Gregory J. Edwards. Salem, N.H.: Salem House. 224 pp. $24.95. The poster is a curious amalgamation of art, commerce, politics, language, and design. Its development parallels the development of papermaking, printing, and various styles of illustration and typography. Its appeal ranges across the various human emotions from the boldest passions to the most delicate suggestions. And because posters combine so many of these elements as well as the immediacy of communication, they are as accurate a portrayal of their times as literature or any of the other arts.

Mr. Weill's lavishly illustrated and authoritatively researched book (661 illustrations and 300 color plates) must stand as the latest and last word on the role of the poster as art and communication. Beautifully printed (in Spain) and nicely written, the book reacquaints us with the power, the humor, the grace, and the historical significance of posters from the 1700s on.

Poster art is most distinguishable because it serves a purpose, whether the posters seek to sell soap (see illustration, next page), rally Russian peasants against a monster of world imperialism, put British workers on their guard against infiltration (see left), or make the French trust their Nazi conquerors.

Art and typography are bold; they must come across in seconds, when viewed through the haze of urban confusion or as viewers whiz by in vehicles. War posters brook no discussion -- Lord Kitchener and Uncle Sam want you to join up NOW, not get back to them in a few days. Opera posters are certainly the most beautiful, capturing a passionate scene or glorifying the characters.


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