Every once and while, Mondo Exploito features a poster scan provided by Westgate Gallery. If you’re a fan of beautiful, painted, sleazy posters, chances are you’re familiar with Westgate Gallery. If you’re not, you’d best prepare your salivary gland for an intense workout. Westgate Gallery has perhaps the most incredible selection of original exploitation movie posters that an online store has to offer. Covering everything from gorgeous Golden Age XXX 1-sheets to sleazy Italian locandinas, perusing Westgate Gallery’s site is quite overwhelming.
Through my email exchanges with Westgate Gallery’s owner, Christian, it became very clear very quickly that he is not your average poster peddler but a passionate guy who truly knows his stuff. Christian was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule organising a gallery show opening and chat posters with me.
I’m a writer (two novels — Glamourpuss, Sex Toys of the Gods — plays, and many, many TV shows) based in Hollywood and I’ve been collecting movie posters since I was 3. Seriously. I used to go on walks with my grandfather around their town (Fort Kent, Maine) and always insisted we pass by the local cinema so I could stare at the posters. For whatever reason I was most drawn to horror films, the more gruesome the better. The current attraction was the Amicus horror anthology The House that Dripped Blood, which not only has a great title, but a riveting 1-sheet depicting a woman whose face was half-skull, holding a guy’s head on a platter. I really wanted to go see the movie, but wasn’t taken seriously so had to do with looking at the poster on several walks. Then one day the lady who owned the cinema, a friend of my grandparents’, was outside and I’m sure I shocked my grandfather and her by asking if I could have the poster. She said yes and gave it to me when the film’s run ended. I never hung it up, but kept it tucked away in the blue paper bag it came in, carefully taking it out and unfolding it a few times a year or when we had company.
Original 1-sheets were not easy to come by for a kid in small-town Maine, especially the scary ones I craved, so the collection grew very slowly, helped along by periodic gifts from my grandparents’ friend, which were sadly never in as good condition as The House that Dripped Blood. When I did run across a fine/very fine one, I’d sock it away and use the lesser ones to decorate my room. In high school, we moved to San Antonio, Texas, and I worked at a cineplex and started to amass a decent collection, supplemented by posters bought at flea markets and comic book stores. I started getting into XXX porno film posters at that time and it was always exciting to see the full-size full-color version of something I’d only glimpsed in the B&W newspaper ads of the Maine papers I’d scanned as a kid. The big towns near me, Bangor and Waterville, had thriving adult cinemas throughout the 70s, so I was exposed to current porn film titles and intriguing tawdry-but-tasteful little ads trumpeting names like John Holmes, Lesllie Bovee, Georgina Spelvin, Jamie Gillis, Linda Wong and Terri Hall and smutty-yet-coy tag lines like Oriental Babysitter‘s “The fun starts after the kids are in bed!” I wasn’t yet aware of individual poster artists and their styles, but I thought the X-rated stuff had some of the coolest, most entertaining art of any genre.
I moved to Los Angeles the day after graduating from the University of Texas, my posters taking up a huge percentage of my tiny unreliable elderly car. When I started writing for TV three years later, I was able to afford to shop at memorabilia stores and shows, and then I discovered Italian movie posters while there in 1997 and then eBay in 1998 and the collection exploded, reaching insane proportions (around 2000 or so) for someone in a 950 square foot apartment. I knew it was time to get serious about framing, hanging and enjoying some of these treasures I was hoarding. I decided my very favorites were Italian Giallo posters, with both Italian and US porno a close second. The gialli won out and I had about ten of them framed by Sue Heim at Hollywood Poster Frames in Chatsworth. I was shocked at the incredible results of skilled linen-backing, and thrilled when my enormous 2F (39 x 55″) and 4F Italian subway posters came back looking like they’d just rolled off the press. Since I was going to limit my personal collection almost exclusively to Gialli, that left over 2000 posters I also loved that deserved to be displayed and cherished, not filed away for eternity in reinforced mailing tubes and Mylar envelopes. So I decided to find homes for them and Westgate Gallery, named after one of my childhood porno palaces, Bangor’s Westgate Cinema on Union Street — now part of a dreary medical plaza I pass every time I fly in to Bangor to see my parents — was born.
How big is Westgate Gallery’s collection? Are all the posters originally from your personal collection?
I don’t have an exact count, but including a few hundred posters waiting to be photographed and uploaded to the store, it must be over 3000. The first 2200 or so came from my own collection, including The House that Dripped Blood that started it all. The others I’ve been acquiring the last 18 months, to improve the store and because apparently I just can’t stop.
What do your walls look like at home? I’m picturing boobs and sleaze all over the place!
That’s kind of accurate! I have limited space so I had to choose carefully. All the big pieces are linen-backed Gialli although I have a few favorite holdovers in smaller areas from my early days in L.A. In the living room you’d find the last sign used outside my grandmother Juliette’s beauty salon in Fort Kent, painted by my grandfather; a painting of my best friend Michael Morillo by my friend, the disgustingly talented Barry Morse (he acted in VIVA and my live stage production The Phacts of Life, a word-for-word recreation of multiple episodes of The Facts of Life, a compellingly awful/awfully compelling US sitcom that aired from 1979-86); and the jaw-dropping, possibly only one in existence 55 x 118″ linen-backed billboard for the deliciously sleazy Giallo Strip Nude for Your Killer.
The hallway has linen-backed Italian 39x55s for Case of the Scorpion’s Tail and Case of the Bloody Iris, and a US 1-sheet for Female Trouble sent to me by New Line Cinema when I wrote them a fan letter in the 10th grade expressing my desire to attend NYU and intern for them. Bathroom #1 has a Divine theme, with her framed Interview magazine cover, 45 record sleeve from “Born To Be Cheap” and posters from the “I’m So Beautiful” 12″ single and a rather abused original Saliva Films Pink Flamingos mini-poster. Bathroom #2 has a “Beauty & the Beat” poster signed by all 5 Go-Go’s and framed LP sleeves for their other 80s albums “Vacation” and “Talk Show”. In the poster room (formerly the dining room): linen-backed Italian posters for The Red Queen Kills 7 Times (55 x 78″) and The Slasher is the Sex Maniac (39 x 55″), and 1-sheets for Problem Girls, Mandingo and The 4th Man (signed by Paul Verhoeven). My bedroom has three linen-backed Gialli: You’ll Die at Midnight (39 x 55″), The Psychic and Torso (US 1-sheet) and… brace yourselves… a triptych of promo posters from the “More Than Physical” 7″ single signed by all three original Bananaramas.
Well, I can safely say I would sell my soul for your home decor! Has there ever been a poster that was too obnoxious for you to display at home? I’m thinking Africa Anal…
If I ever get a summer place or a pied-à-terre somewhere, I’d decorate it with all Golden Age porno posters. Africa Anal wouldn’t be disqualified for obnoxiousness, but I’d probably stick to painted/illustrated ones, Italian, British (the quads for Through the Looking Glass, Dracula Sucks, and For Richer for Poorer are fantastic), and American.
You have a seriously impressive selection of incredible golden age porn posters. Tell us a bit about your relationship with vintage smut.
Even as a very young kid, I was fascinated by “forbidden” subject matter. Anything that was advertised as Adults Only or Restricted or (on TV) “Parental Discretion Advised” went on my must-see list. When I began regularly checking the amusements pages and learned about porn theaters, I soon discovered mentioning these film titles to adults got flustered and often shocked reactions. The ads in the Bangor paper were frustratingly small and sloppily printed (the Waterville paper was much better), but the porno chic phenomenon was wildly popular in the state of Maine, especially in summer, when it seemed every other town had made their drive-ins porn only.
When I finally was able to see the actual 1-sheets for porn films, they were a revelation. The movies they promoted (especially pre-1982) were stuffed with the most explicit, raunchy, taboo-shattering content in cinema history, yet the posters needed to be presentable outside a theatre on Main Street USA. So the built-in element of tease became much more pointed and dangerous than in similar posters for R and soft X-rated films. The illustrations, usually unsigned and in most cases still anonymous all these years later, were the essence of Pop Art to me, and perfectly reflected the cultural trends of the era. These posters are like great vinyl LP album covers from the 70s : a vanished singular art form representing another long-lost art form, the shot-on-film hardcore feature, so they’re doubly precious in our modern world of soulless Photoshopped posters and soulless high-def pornography, both of which can now be manufactured with “professional” quality by any 18 year old at home with an iPhone.
What are some of your favourite XXX posters on the site?
There are hundreds of fabulous 1-sheets in the store so this is tough! Anything with art by Penelope, who did top airbrush work worthy of the sweetest 1979 van: Hot Cookies, Thunderbuns, Tenderloins, and Sugar Britches. They’re all great, but Sugar Britches seems to be a painting of the late, kooky Terri Hall, one of the most fascinating 70s stars.
Angel Buns and A Girl’s Best Friend, with gorgeous illustrations by Olivia DeBerardinis; our unfolded Alice in Wonderland by Mad Magazine’s Jack Davis; The Devil’s Playground; Teenage Sex Therapy; Through the Looking Glass, both the trifolded US and the mega-rare UK quad by Tom Chantrell; the equally rare Chantrell quad for Dracula Sucks; Aunt Peg; Carnal Olympics; Pornography in New York; Inside Baby Sitter; Hot Lunch; The Pleasure Shoppe; Waterpower; Sex World; Dominatrix Without Mercy; Jade Pussycat; Love Airlines; Consenting Adults; The Night Bird; Portrait; Librianna; Hot Rackets; Lust Inferno; Misbehavin’; Autobiography of a Flea; Hottest Show in Town; Grease Monkeys; Call Me Angel, Sir; A Woman’s Torment; Little Orphan Dusty (with its shameless plagiarizing of the famous Farrah Fawcett poster); and Taxi Girls (by the same producer, only this time he got sued by Cheryl Ladd for promoting Nancy Suiter as a lookalike).
I definitely prefer painted/illustrated over photo-style, but I have to mention the iconic Cafe Flesh 1-sheet, and the insanely rare Traci Lords posters for New Wave Hookers and Talk Dirty to Me: Part 3, a Splash parody with Traci as the mermaid.
I have a few incredible older XXX posters like Doctor I’m Coming (1970) and DistribPix‘s Juice, but the easy answer for me is 1975 to 1981, when the adult film industry in the US was flourishing. Budgets, creativity and profits were up, censorship was down, and the painted/illustrated porn poster hit a peak, with gem after 1-sheet gem coming from not only the bigger companies like Essex and DistribPix, but from smaller, quirkier and sleazier outfits like Art-Mart and Carlos Tobalina’s company.
Carlos was an eccentric Hollywood character who personified the hedonistic, jet-set 70s and all its many pleasures: big fancy cars, booze, drugs and affairs with porn queens like the rivetingly talent-free Nina Fause. He started making films to play in the adult cinemas he owned in Southern California and apparently wasn’t fazed in the least that he had very little aptitude for writing, directing or casting. Who cares? His girlfriends were naked and John Holmes had coke! And similarly, whoever was in charge of Carlos’s 1-sheets didn’t realize the movies were terrible and created beautiful vibrant standout posters, among the best of the era. Mostly they were done by Rudy Escalera, a beloved local artist with a successful straight career, and a porn Jack of all trades, actor-writer-director agent named Bill Margold who was often the best thing in a Tobalina film and also amused himself doing copywriting for the posters, upon which he put raves about film festival engagements that never existed and totally fake awards the movies never won.
Robin Bougie (who I interviewed last year) recently published an excellent book about vintage porn posters, which you were involved with — Graphic Thrills. I believe that Bougie has a sequel planned…
Yes, he thankfully has the second one coming out this year. I didn’t really meet him until shortly before the first one was published. I’d been a huge fan of his FAB Press Cinema Sewer books. I love shocking, sleazy, outrageous films and his knowledge, writing style and sense of humor hooked me the minute I opened the first book. And his coverage of the Golden Age of XXX is the best, bar none. He digs up filmmakers, stars and scoop with equal alacrity and no matter how horny he’s waxing over his favorites, it’s always witty and often hilarious.
So fast forward five Years and we’d been occasionally emailing each other. I’d just finished converting my poster collection into Westgate Gallery when he told about his upcoming book, Graphic Thrills. Since a large chunk of my posters are Golden Age XXX, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I was stunned to discover I actually owned all but a few of the painted posters in the book. Graphic Thrills was like a catalog of highlights from my XXX section! Robin cherishes these posters like I do and he’s always trying to discover and credit the artist or designer for unsigned posters. I’d been doing the same thing with my web store, because I agree that it sucks that so many artists who did great posters have always been anonymous (although some of them are trying to keep it that way because they’re older and still see their porno assignments as something shameful and career-threatening). We did a little online detective work together trying to match more artists to their work and he shared some discoveries he’d already made so I could assign proper credit to some of my pieces.
Then he asked if I’d be okay lending FAB about 12 of my rare 1-sheets so they could be part of his second book. I was really flattered and excited to be part of it and I can’t wait for the book to be published. Everyone should pre-order a copy now so Robin can keep the series going. I’d love to see a later volume focus on Italian posters for American and European XXX films from the same period. Even avid smut fans may not realize that when these moves were released in Italy, most of them received the same treatment as mainstream films in that the distributors would assign the same top professional artists who worked on big blockbusters to create huge, gorgeous 39 x 55″ subway posters and sometimes even more enormous 2-panel 55 x 78″ versions — usually two entirely different designs that are also different from the American 1-sheet. For example, check out the Italian Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls and Sunny… tell me they’re not better than the original 1-sheets! And Westgate Gallery has dozens of these for US XXX classics like Sweet Savage, Soft Places, Anyone But My Husband, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Johnny Does Paris, Mai Lin vs. Serena, Lust Inferno, Driller, New Wave Hookers, Naked Scents and Alice in Wonderland to name a few.
I would love to see a volume dedicated to Italian XXX posters! It’s rather sad that there’s so little information about some of the artists behind these beautifully painted posters. You mention that most have gone uncredited. Was that the case with Italian artists too?
You’re right, most of the world’s movie posters are sadly anonymous. Less so in Italy, where they actually seem to celebrate them a bit. I have gotten a lot better at identifying the Italian artists, but don’t know anything about their bios yet. When it comes to XXX poster art, Robin quickly made himself into the worlds foremost expert, but constantly runs into trouble when surviving artists or their families still don’t want to discuss their scandalous sideline so long ago. One fascinating fact your readers might enjoy: Armand Weston, the very skilled director of Golden Age Porn classics like Take Off, Defiance and The Taking of Christina worked in commercial art before he began making films. As an illustrator and ad agency art director, he was able to jump into the 1-sheet end of adult and created superb posters for his own (Defiance, the horror one-off The Nesting) and others’ movies (Heat Wave, Through the Looking Glass, Visions).
Just one? DePalma’s Carrie (1976) has been my favourite movie since 1978 and as a kid I would get a thrillingly physical jolt every time I saw the 1-sheet displayed outside a theatre somewhere. But because I’ve spent staggering amounts of time and money attaining a deeper level of appreciation, so I’m going with a Giallo I found In Rome then had put through an amazingly effective linen restoration by my friend Sue at Hollywood Poster Frames in Chatsworth (Spahn Ranch country!) — the Italian 4F of The Bloodstained Shadow aka Solamente Nero (1978). It’s basically the cover art of the upcoming blu-ray from 88 Films, a gorgeous creepy mist-shrouded Venice canal scene by Luciano Crovato. I would live in Venice half the year if I could manage it!
To end on something of a depressing note, do you think the art of poster is completely dead? Or are you crossing your fingers for a resurgence?
Unfortunately, I think Photoshop killed poster art and the endless parade of selfie-obsessed kids who will grow up to run the movie biz will keep it in the grave. Luckily there was so much wonderful art for so many years, there’s a vast stockpile waiting to be rediscovered (spend ten minutes at Westgate Gallery and you’ll see). And vintage is so much better for any decor or situation. Who wants to share their wall with a giant airbrushed Jonah Hill?
I should hope no one.
I want to thank Christian for taking the time to speak to me and sharing his love of posters and Golden Age XXX. I can’t recommend Westgate Gallery enough. As you can probably tell from this interview, Christian is an authority on the subject and, from what I can tell from our online exchanges, a nice guy to boot!
Westgate Gallery has a big event coming up in Los Angeles. They are hosting an exclusive gallery show opening on Friday, May 15th at 8:00PM at Lethal Amounts (1226 West 7th Street, downtown Los Angeles, 90017). Westgate Gallery will be showcasing their rarest, most stunning and outrageous sexploitation posters — available for immediate purchase!
The opening night cocktail reception features special guests from the Golden Age of XXX filmmaking. Veronica Hart! Karen Summer! Bill Margold! Serena! And, one of my personal favourite XXX stars, Long Jeanne Silver! If you’re lucky enough to be in L.A. on the 15th of May, you’ll be able to mingle with adult movie superstars, pick up a personally inscribed original poster, and bask in the glory of Westgate Gallery’s staggering collection. Damn it. Too bad I’m on the other side of the globe.