INTERVIEW: Curator of Movie History: Lana Revok and Starts Today!
All photos courtesy of Lana Revok and Starts Today!
Be honest, when was the last time you looked at a newspaper? This morning? This weekend? You don't remember? In this day and age, odds are you get the majority of the news from your smartphone, computer or on cable. Rewind the clock about thirty to forty years and you'd discover that most people got their news from the nightly news, when there were only three networks, or the morning paper. Back than when someone were to say 'let's see a movie' you'd have to grab the newspaper to see what's playing at the local theater or call the theater itself. The internet did not exist. Fandango did not exist. You had to look at the weekend section and see if there's anything that peaks your interest. You then had to look at the directory within the ad or find your favorite theater's listing to see if it was playing there. While their purpose remains the same, movie advertising of the past seems rather antiquated when compared to where it is today.
One thing that always comes with looking at the past is the longing for times gone by. Can you recall any newspaper movie ads from your youth? Do you remember which theater you watched a particular movie in? You'll likely remember more of the latter and less of the former. Trust me,when you reach age it can be a challenge. I can remember where I saw Phantasm, confirmed by an original newspaper ad for the film, but to this day I can't remember exactly where I watched Star Wars for the first time. I'm an avid collector of theatrical one sheets. I have several hundred mostly acquired from my movie theater days. The posters would certainly remind you of the film but it's the newspaper ads for these older films that can provide you the connective tissue to where you first experienced the film itself.
Lana Revok, a life-long movie buff, fell in love with the movies at a young age. Not only that she became fascinated by the film advertisements she found in the local newspaper. Decades later she became nostalgic for these classic ads and decided she wanted to share them with the world. She started the appropriately named blog Starts Today! where she serves as curator of these classic pieces of film history. Ms. Revok was more than happy to answer some of my questions about curating these classic gems and provided a very insightful and engaging discussion that truly shows her passion and enthusiasm for the subject that you may find rather infectious.
Ernie Trinidad (ET): Please tell us about yourself. What's your favorite genre? When did your love affair with movies begin? Lana Revok (LR): I got into horror movies at a very young age because of my Grandmother. She's a big horror movie fan. CARRIE (1976) is her favorite. We would always watch stuff like CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE and NIGHT GALLERY together. Those were good times! Fortunately, my parents were cool enough to start taking me to R rated movies when I was nine so I would always request to see something like THE SHINING or HALLOWEEN II (1981). I was a lucky kid!
(ET): I can certainly relate to that. When my siblings and I were young our Dad would always take us to the horror movies. I'd have nightmares. Are you still a movie fan now?
(LR): Absolutely! Always been a movie buff. I'll watch pretty much anything except Westerns. Can't really get into them. I must say though that the movie industry has gotten a little stale for me. Everything is either a superhero movie or a reboot. I just wish Hollywood would take more chances on original material like they did back in the 70's. I blame the audiences for some of this. It seems like a lot of people these days just want to see safe, generic crap.
(ET): I recommend watching Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado. It got me into Westerns. I certainly can't argue against your fair assessment of the current state of the industry. In regards to ads I remember when I was young I'd cut out and save ones for movies like Temple of Doom, Star Wars or Star Trek. I wish I still had them. What was it about the classic newspaper ads that appealed to you? When and where did Starts Today begin to take shape? (LR): When I was about nine years old I discovered the weekend section in the Philadelphia Inquirer which featured ads for all the films that were either coming out that Friday or had already been playing in theaters. The first ad to really catch my attention was MOTHER'S DAY (1980). It was so grotesque! An old lady holding a box with a severed head in it?! I knew that I had to see this film immediately! Unfortunately, it was unrated which back then meant that no one under eighteen was allowed in so that was the end of that dream. But that was the moment that I became obsessed with the artwork in newspaper ads. The ads made every movie look like a big event (HELD OVER! SECOND BIG WEEK!) even if some of those movies were terrible. I remember the ad for ALLIGATOR seemed so epic, like it was going to be the next JAWS. It's hilarious to look back on something like that now. If ALLIGATOR were released today it would go straight to Netflix. And the double feature ads were a big bonus! Two ads spliced together! Something you would never get on a poster. And in many cases the artwork in the newspaper ads tended to be different from the artwork on the posters. If it weren't for collectors like myself those images would be completely forgotten about. I started feeling nostalgic for those old ads about thirteen years ago. Then I discovered that my local library had a enormous microfilm collection. The Philadelphia Inquirer stuff dated back to 1970 and the New York Times back to the 1930's. I've spent many hours of my life since then spinning through those reels and looking for movie ad gold. It's completely ruined my eyesight but I've got to say it was worth it.
(ET): I love ALLIGATOR. Certainly one of the fun things about seeing the ads you showcase are the nostalgic feelings that set in. When you see the ad for a film, look over the theater directory and remember where you saw that film it proves to be quite rewarding. Having grown up in South Jersey myself, the ads you present are the very ones I likely saw when I was a kid. When I looked at the ad for Fred Dekker's THE MONSTER SQUAD I remembered where I saw it and what my friends and I did that night. Is this the experience you intended for Starts Today to provide or is it just a happy by-product?
(LR): A happy by-product. I am originally from Philadelphia. PA. I have moved several times over the years but have always remained close to Philly. I have always said that movie ads are the closest thing I can find to a time machine and I do get flooded with emotions when certain movie theater names pop up. When I was nine my family moved to Sharon Hill which is a borough in Delaware County. There was a shopping complex nearby called the MacDade Mall which had an Eric theater inside of it. This was my favorite place to see movies. It was THE place to hangout. It also represents the time period in which I started growing up and stopped having my parents escort me to rated R films. Sure, my friends and I were under seventeen but it didn't matter back then. No one asked for an I.D. No one cared. Your parents would drop you and your friends off at the mall in the afternoon, you would shop, get pizza, go see something like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) and then your parents would come back to pick you up at midnight. It was an amazing time! I cherish those memories. We moved again when I was fifteen but I would always journey back to the MacDade Mall to see movies. Sadly, the theater closed back in 2003. The last thing I saw there was the FREAKY FRIDAY remake.
(ET): The Budco Millside Twin, which eventually became the AMC Millside 4, in Delran, NJ was my go to theater; at least until I bought a car. I'm certain the box office cashier knew I was underage but he would always sell me a ticket to the R rated movies. What is your favorite classic newspaper ad? Which ad that has appeared on Starts Today! has received the greatest response? (LR): I have so many favorites! It would be hard to pick just one. I'm a huge William Castle fan and I love the gimmick ads for his films. Also THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) had one of the best marketing campaigns I've ever seen. They released these tiny teasers ads which would just show a picture of the iconic house and a tagline like "The living room. January 20th, 3:15 a.m. The unnatural cold?" There were four of those and then a big teaser ad that said "It's Friday the 13th. If you don't believe in evil you will 14 days from today." It made you get so excited! And it paid off because THE AMITYVILLE HORROR was the second highest grossing movie of 1979. I'm also very obsessed with the marketing of KING KONG (1976). There is an ad I found in the New York Times from 1975 which was kind of a sneak preview ad aimed to generate excitement for the film which would be released a year later. It's an image of him standing on the World Trade Center but the artwork is very different from the famous poster that we all know. I hope to get that one scanned in soon to share with the people who follow my ads. It's huge so I have to shrink it down. 3D ads are a big favorite of mine as well. A lot of people seem to hate 3D now but it was a big deal when I was growing up. I love gimmicks and I'm not ashamed to admit that. Last but not least would be the ad for SCANNERS. Most people think of Satan as some cartoonish character with red horns and a tail or as some half goat half man but I always picture Michael Ironside in business attire with his eyes rolled back white and veins visibly popping up on his arms and face. As for what my "audience" likes...well, the majority of them are male so anything action oriented gets a huge response. Cult movies such as MOTEL HELL seem to get a lot of positive feedback too. I tried catering to "this was my childhood" crowd with ads like THE TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and THE GOONIES but they bombed. Go figure!
(ET): All of the films you mentioned were part of my childhood. I know it may be hard to answer this one since online marketing has been overtaking print. When you look at an ad from then compared to now what stands out to you? Are ads better or worse? For me, current ads are overtly simple, ie floating heads, not as eye-catching and certainly quite generic. (LR): To be honest, I haven't picked up a newspaper in several years. I did see an article that someone sent to me back in 2009 about the death of movie newspaper ads and even though it was sad I can't say I was surprised. The internet has taken over everything. So I guess this begs the question "How do I feel about internet ads?" I fucking hate them. They're just not the same artistically. When I'm trying to read an article on Entertainment Weekly and Captain America's big stupid head pops up I get angry. Everything is so forced. I know I sound old (and I am) but it was different when you would leaf through the Weekend section of the Philadelphia Inquirer back in the 1980's. You had this amazing spread of artwork that you could choose from and you could decide what you wanted to see based on the creativity that was presented to you. Now it's just "WE SPENT 300 MILLION ON THIS!!! JUST FUCKING SEE IT!!!!!!!!!!"
(ET): So true, back then we only had TV commercials, radio spots, the coming attractions shown before the movie and finally the print ads themselves. Are there any plans to take Starts Today one step further such as a book, a dedicated website or even a place where fans can share ads from their city's newspapers? (LR): This is something that I have been going back and forth with over the past ten years. There were plans for a book back in 2008. I met someone online who was writing a book (which did get published) and he asked if he could borrow some ads from me. Then he presented the idea of working on a movie ad book together and I was totally down with that. Unfortunately our working relationship deteriorated pretty quickly and we stopped contacting each other. I looked into other outlets and tried to sell the idea to a few people but nothing ever came to be. On the one hand it was a very sad and depressing time because I had done so much work. On the other hand it was kind of a relief because making the ads "a business" utterly sucked the joy out of collecting them. I'm never going to make any money out of them on Facebook or Twitter but I still have the freedom to present them how I want. And back in 2008 I thought I was the only one doing this but now I've seen quite a few movies ad pages evolve over time. And you know what? That's a great thing. Now we're seeing movie newspaper ads from all over the country with different artwork and movie theaters names that I'm sure are getting plenty of other movie geeks like me excited.
(ET): I wholeheartedly agree that it's very exciting and I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and providing such enlightening answers. I wish you great and continued success in carrying on the important work of preserving and sharing the past.
In case you were wondering I saw first runs of The Transformers-The Movie, The Amityville Horror (1979), The Thing (1982) and Phantasm at the Budco/AMC Millside Theater in Delran, NJ. First run of The Monster Squad at the Eric Twin Plaza Moorestown in Moorestown, NJ. Taxi Driver I didn't see in a theater until I moved to Los Angeles, CA. Finally, I assume I saw the first run of Star Wars at the Eric Twin Pennsauken...I still can't remember. Go to the below links to like and follow Starts Today! where you can find even more ads. While there, be sure to let Lana know what you like and what you would like to see.