• David Morris

COLLECT: Christie’s "Vintage Classic" films & the art they inspired.

In 2016 & 2017, StudioCanal released four Agatha Christie films under their “Vintage Classics” brand which seeks to reissue classic British films with updated content and improved quality in both the Blu-ray and DVD formats. The four films they selected were Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Death on the Nile (1978), The Mirror Crack’d (1980) and Evil Under the Sun (1982).

In addition to remastering the films, StudioCanal commissioned new art to adorn the updated releases. A collaboration of respected artists and designers was brought together. These included artist Johnny Dombrowski, James Park at Black Dragon Press and Rogue Four Design.

"To celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release we invited New York illustrator Johnny Dombrowski to create this stunning poster for the film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s iconic whodunnit “Murder On The Orient Express” – StudioCanal. (note: the variant version discussed later is on the right).


Johnny Dombrowski:

Johnny Dombrowski is an award-winning illustrator working in New York City. His partial client list has included various sports entities as well as DC Comics, Mondo, Black Dragon Press and StudioCanal. He designed four artworks for StudioCanal – one for each film released - that StudioCanal would use on the disc cases. Three of the images were then issued by Black Dragon Press as limited-edition collectible prints (all but The Mirror Crack’d). The print for Murder on the Orient Express also came in a darker art deco variant (image above right). Thus, for those seeking to collect these prints there are four in total. His designs included some plots clues and hints, but they really excelled at evoking both the place and time of the novel. The other two images are below.

All of these hand-pulled screen-prints were sized 24” by 36” and produced by White Duck Screenprint.


Rogue Four Design:

This independent graphic design studio is based in Cheam, Surrey, on the outskirts of London. They were tasked with presenting Dombrowksi’s art appropriately on both Blu-ray and DVD cases.


“Using the image full bleed would have led to missing some of the image as Blu-ray sleeves are proportionally nearer a square than DVD sleeves, so it was important to include the top and bottom of the posters, to feature the visual references. The solution was a containing box for the title and talent on the Blu-ray inlay sleeves, which meant everything was included on all the sleeves, with the bonus of a little bit of variation across the formats” – Rogue Four Design.


Black Dragon Press:

James Park founded Black Dragon Press (BDP) which is an online gallery based in north London. It offers limited edition screen prints and giclees based around cultural artifacts, be it films, music, architecture, literature and more. Their prints that contain intellectual property are all fully licensed. Over the years they have worked with many highly respected illustrators and graphic artists. Their customer base is mainly in the USA but they have been building a solid UK and European audience too. BDP arranged for the production and distribution of the Dombrowski prints, as well as the WBYK prints discussed later.


The "Vintage Classic" Four:


Murder on the Orient Express (1974). In October 2016, this was the first Christie film StudioCanal released as part of their "Vintage Classic" series. With its brand-new digital restoration, the release also comes with new Interviews with costume designer Anthony Powell, Dame Angela Lansbury and producer Richard Goodwin. There is also a ‘Making Of’ documentary, plus behind the scenes and costume designs stills galleries.


Dombrowski's artwork designed for this release was issued in a 5-colour screen-print in an edition of 110, each hand numbered. The variant design, printed with metallic ink, is in an edition of only 50. These prints contain five clues integrated into the image by the artist and originally sold for £45 and £65 respectively.


The following year, in October 2017, StudioCanal released three further Christie films as part of their “Vintage Classics”. They were as follows:


Death on the Nile (1978). This rerelease also was a new digital restoration that also contained new interviews with costume designer Anthony Powell, with Dame Angela Lansbury and with producer Richard Goodwin. As with Murder on the Orient Express, there is a ‘Making of’ documentary plus behind the scenes and costume designs stills galleries.


The screen-print fof Dombrowksi's art or this film was a 7-color screen print containing 8 clues imbedded into the design. The print was issued in an edition of 110, each hand numbered and originally sold for £60.


Mirror Crack’d (1980). The re-release of this title also provided a new digital restoration and provided new interviews with writer Barry Sandler, with Dame Angela Lansbury and with producer Richard Goodwin. There is also a behind the scenes stills gallery.


While Dombrowski created the art for this re-release's packaging, we are not aware of a limited-edition print being made for sale to collectors. To some extent this was the odd-film in the quartet as the others were all Poirot titles and better known by casual fans. However, we find the image compelling and attractive. Hopefully, a print will be issued at some stage.


Evil Under the Sun (1982). As with the other three titles, this was a new digital restoration that came with new interviews with costume designer Anthony Powell, writer Barry Sandler and with producer Richard Goodwin. There is also a ‘Making of’ plus a behind the scenes stills gallery, a costume designs stills gallery.


In the image the artist states that there are 8 hidden clues. Also released as a collectible screen-print in an edition of 110, each is hand numbered and originally sold for £70.


Values: All of these prints are challenging to find but they do periodically show up for sale on common online resale sites. Expect to pay £175 - £225 ($250 - $300 US) today for any of the four prints. We expect demand and values to increase as awareness grows of them, and because of the ongoing collectability of the artist.


WBYK's Graphic Reinterpretations:

With the licenses to design art associated with these films granted to James Park at Black Dragon Press by StudioCanal, three further prints were designed though they have not been used on film release packaging. These new designs were created by We Buy Your Kids (aka WBYK). While the previous prints focused on the locations within the films, WBYK came at the series from the direction of costume design and the fashion of the era.


We Buy Your Kids (WBYK):

Behind WBYK are Sonny Day & Biddy Maroney, a husband-and-wife illustration team from Australia. They were contacted by James Park after he saw an illustration WBYK created after watching the BBC version of Witness for The Prosecution with Toby Jones and Kim Cattrall.

This print is not available for sale (currently).

This working relationship led to the creation of three new screen prints inspired by the StudioCanal reissued films. While the previous prints focused on the locations within the films, WBYK came at the series from the direction of costume design and the fashion of the era. They are as follows:


Evil Under the Sun.


Death on the Nile.


Murder on the Orient Express.

All of these are 18” x 24” screen prints, with a gallery stamp on the reverse, printed by White Duck Editions, hand numbered in a limited edition of 200 and issued in early 2022.


Black Dragon Press has also partnered with Mondo, an Austin, Texas based US company, over the years in various collaborations. Mondo handled a portion of the drop to ensure BDP’s US customers could easily secure copies.The WBYK’s Evil Under the Sun printing was the 26th collaboration between BDP and Mondo – so known as BDP x Mondo #26. Death on the Nile is BDP x Mondo #30 (originally planned to be #29), while Murder on the Orient Express is BDP x Mondo #31. Collectors of these prints may find that the seller states it was sold by either BDP or Mondo.


Biddy Maroney told us that she is a long-time Christie fan, though more so from screen adaptations. She also has a collection of Tom Adams paperbacks. However, it was really the art and costume designs from the films that inspired her when creating these new artworks.


There are limited clues reflected in their work, but the fan in Murder on the Orient Express represents the 12 knives and the bangle on the hand is a rope weave which references the events of the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping. In addition, the pattern featured is taken from the trains upholstered walls.


WBYK did not create a new interpretation of The Mirror Crack’d as James Park at BDP felt a Poirot trio was a more suitable grouping. However, given the era and the potential glamour of the costumes we hope WBYK will be given the opportunity to design a print.


Values: These three WBYK prints originally retailed for £45 but are now all sold out even though the last print only just dropped. Collectors will need to source them from secondary markets, online resellers or private hands. Expect to pay £100-£150 ($135 - $200 US) per print. We expect these prints to gain popularity and values as awareness of them grows.


Summary:

With these reissued films, Christie fans have the ability to enjoy them in a new remastered version with a strong line up of supporting content. In addition, with the issuance of the six (plus one variant) collectible images, fans of Agatha Christie now have new opportunities to decorate their walls with still relatively affordable yet collectible art. Given the enduring appeal of these films and the quality of the art, there is something here for everyone.


Tell us your favourites!


Any corrections, insights or additions that would improve this article are welcomed. Please email them to collectchristie@gmail.com

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