Appellate Judge James A. Stewart laments that hard-boiled detectives no longer populate fiction, but is glad the era of hard-boiled eggs lives on.
"You know it when you see it, imagery unlike any ever produced. Over-the-top oil paintings depicting action, adventure, drama, violence—much of it with a dash of sex thrown in."
Pulp fiction magazines had been around for a few years before their heyday in the 1930s, just like the seasoned hard-boiled detectives whose cases unfolded in their pages. But in the 1930s, newsstand racks were filled with Western, detective, and science fiction short story titles competing for readers' attention.
How did pulps command that attention? By creating covers that pulsed with life through bright colors and action. That's what Pulp Fiction Art: Cheap Thrills & Painted Nightmares celebrates.
These paintings were churned out for often-weekly deadlines and usually dismissed as art. The magazine companies often gave it away or threw it away. Even some artists were less than thrilled with their work. As the documentary indicates, John Newton Howitt burned his own cover art, while Rafael Desoto took more pride in the religious artwork he did later. Thus, the original artwork, if you can find it, can be valuable today.
You'll see a lot of original cover art in Pulp Fiction Art. Mainly, though, it's a tribute to the artists. To put together this documentary, Jamie McDonald sought out the top cover artists in each pulp genre, getting comments from experts, family members, or even the artists themselves, on the lives and styles of the pulp artists.
Not all of the artists were embarrassed by their work; Everett Raymond Kinstler recalls that, "With the pulps, I was a storyteller." By now, he's done the official portraits of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, but he still looks at his pulp career fondly.
Assembled from a variety of sources, Pulp Fiction Art has the varied visual quality common to documentaries. The sound works well, with even the most battered clips coming across clearly.
I found Pulp Fiction Art: Cheap Thrills & Painted Nightmares interesting and informative, and it gave me a new appreciation for the artistry behind the tempting cover art of old. Still, at a mere 57 minutes, it feels like a tease that will likely leave any pulp cover enthusiasts wanting more. That's why the lack of extras rankles somewhat. Extended interviews could have given fans a chance to hear more about their favorite artists, and a stills gallery of some of these covers would have been fantastic.
I'll acquit Pulp Fiction Art: Cheap Thrills & Painted Nightmares, but with a reprimand for leaving audiences wanting more.
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