For Immediate Release
Filmmaker Adam McDaniel conducts video Q&A regarding AMSEL: ILLUSTRATOR OF THE LOST ART
Documentary to Profile the Late Illustrator Richard Amsel, Creator of “The Greatest Hand-Drawn Movie Poster of All Time”
(LOS ANGELES – AUGUST 2, 2023) Filmmaker Adam McDaniel has held an online Q&A to discuss the progress of the documentary AMSEL: ILLUSTRATOR OF THE LOST ART, which is the first in-depth profile of the celebrated illustrator, Richard Amsel (1947-1985).
One of the most prolific and popular American illustrators of the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Amsel remains a titanic figure in the world of entertainment art. His work includes a cover for TIME, thirty-seven published TV Guide covers, iconic album and concert illustrations, and portraits of such legendary personalities as Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, and Barbra Streisand. He is best known, however, for his illustrated movie posters, including Hello Dolly!, The Sting, Chinatown, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Murder on the Orient Express, Flash Gordon, The Dark Crystal, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and, most famously, two posters for Raiders of the Lost Ark – named "The Greatest Hand-Drawn Movie Poster of all time" by Total Film in 2011.
Sadly, Amsel’s life and career were all too brief – cut short by AIDS in November, 1985, weeks before his thirty-eighth birthday.
McDaniel has been working on the documentary since 2015, filming over sixty interviews throughout the country. Interviewees include a number of Mr. Amsel’s friends, family members, former classmates, teachers, creative associates, and new generations of artists whom Amsel inspired.
Mr. Amsel will be posthumously inducted into The Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, in a special honorary event to be held in New York City on Sept. 9th. McDaniel plans to attend and film the event.
The documentary is still in the early stages of editing, and will include numerous animations and motion graphics to showcase Amsel’s artwork.
“Illustration has always been an underrated art,” McDaniel says. “It’s unique in that those who want to have a successful career as illustrators have to be good at it, and yet it’s a double-edged sword in that illustration is hardly taken as seriously as fine art.”
He adds, “Regarding movie poster art and my love for it, my position is I don’t really care if it’s classical art, if it’s fine art, or commercial art. … Even if many people consider it to be kitsch or tacky, if we take joy from it, if we see beauty in it, if we can admire the skill and craftsmanship that goes into that kind of illustration, does that make it less worthy? Should we love it any less? I’d argue no.”
For the first time, McDaniel has publicly elaborated on some of the challenges he’s had with developing the project, including his early attempts to collaborate with members of Mr. Amsel’s close surviving family – a yearlong process that ultimately ended with a falling out. “It came to the point where the project would not happen. A collaboration was impossible,” he said. “I tried working with them for over a year. I handed them all my work, all my research, all my contacts. This was not reciprocated in any way, and I was met with, initially, delay, delay, delay, demands and then resistance. I don’t think, you know, some of the testimonials I heard at that time were completely forthcoming, and so it was necessary for me to just move on, take my work, and do the project.”
Fortunately, another Amsel relative reached out to McDaniel in early 2022 – and filmed a telling interview that summer about the problematic dynamics among Amsel’s immediate family. It’s a testimonial McDaniel is especially grateful for.
Another challenge, McDaniel states, was trying to reconcile some of the conflicting narratives he had been told by people about their relationships with Amsel over the years, and unraveling the truth about the ownership of the late artist’s work following his death. McDaniel’s investigation entailed exhaustive research, and retaining an attorney to make formal legal inquiries. McDaniel believes he’s finally found some definitive answers, and has received the full support of the Richard Amsel estate – now properly identified.
The film will explore Amsel’s personal life, including his living as a gay man in New York from the time of Stonewall through the rise of AIDS in the face of the Reagan era. It will also provide details into the artist’s declining health and tragic death.
Another aim is to shed more light on Amsel’s personality. He was known as a softspoken, relatively private person, who nevertheless had his colorful eccentricities and a fiercely sharp wit. But some friends expressed their regret in the way Amsel “compartmentalized” his different social circles, which led to once close relationships ultimately drifting apart. “He could be witty, he could even be bitchy,” McDaniel says, “but I doubt he was ever cruel. But again, he inadvertently hurt some people.”
McDaniel recalls how illustrator David Edward Byrd, who was a close friend of Amsel’s, often described him as a creative “savant”. Byrd and McDaniel wonder if Amsel may have been on the developmental spectrum. “This is conjecture on my part,” McDaniel says, adding, “If he was, he was high functioning. But so much more knowledge and research has been made into that in recent years. We’ll never know, but it’s possible.”
McDaniel also shares some of Amsel’s achievements beyond the realm of movie poster art. He was an aspiring photographer and, as an avid Disney fan, hoped to break into the animation industry.
The documentary’s editing is “still taking form,” McDaniel says, adding the possibility that the final product may become a multi-part series instead of just a feature-length film. He’s also still hoping to do more interviews – which, as those who knew Amsel personally are now well into their twilight years, has become a race against time. (Three subjects who filmed interviews with McDaniel have since died.)
While the documentary has generated some financial support through crowdfunding over the years, McDaniel explains that he’s personally financed most of the endeavor himself. Despite his modest means, he remains undeterred.
McDaniel is also in discussions with potential publishers about releasing a definitive book on Amsel’s work, as well as an art curator for producing a retrospective art exhibit in the Los Angeles area.
“Richard loved movies. He loved animation,” McDaniel says. “And one of the things I want to do with this project is, wherever he is, I hope he knows that the movies loved him back.”