Golden eye

Interview with author/collector Tony Nourmand


Golden eye
by Darius Kadivar

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
- 3rd century BC Greek Proverb

The Real Voyage of Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
- Marcel Proust ( French Novelist 1871-1922 )

Some films like good wine age well. A century old industry that was at best considered as a minor form of social entertainment has lasted the test of time and is now ranked as an Art Form by itself. Certainly a Collective Art Form in that it is not reduced to one person but is indebted to the collective effort of talents that try to render the film director's vision. Undoubtly the film poster is the Cherry on the Cake that every film director, actor or film crew looks up to. It represents the ultimate accomplishment of a collaboration that awaits critical or public approval.

I have often wondered what happened to all the good old vintage posters of some of those great classic Iranian films some of which may have been lost for ever. Have any ever survived in some basement or backyard of a former cinema manager or movie buff ? These items are certainly part of our social history and deserve to be collected, gathered and displayed in a film museum or gallery as is the case for much of the film art and memorabilia that are conserved in Europe and the US. Since my student years I have been interested in Art books on films. They have become a very popular form of publication in the last 20 years. They have also become much more affordable than they were in the beginning.

As a film buff, I love to display them in my library not just by fetishist obsession but mostly as a film historian for historical and Artistic reference. Its always a pleasure to look through some of the stills of black and white or color photos from the golden Hollywood years or look for feedback on French classic and New Wave Cinema, Italian Neo-Realism or German Expressionist films. It is a literature which is enhanced by visual history and teaches us a great deal on all aspects of a profession that continues to dig in on its own past in order to perpetuate its own Legend.
It was a happy coincidence that made me notice a recurrent name in such publications. I was doing some personal research on how Hollywood film fashion and the American Way of Life had influenced Persian Society particularly in the 50's and 60's. It was for an article on American Soprano Monika Jalili and her Noorsaaz Band who have revived ( and translated from Persian) some of the great music score's of Iran's Pre-Revolution classic movies. I thus came across a book precisely on one of Hollywood's quintessential icon's of the swinging sixties: Audrey Hepburn the Paramount Years by Tony Nourmand.

After doing my research I decided to give him a call and discovered a fascinating personality whose childhood passion for films accidentally turned him into one of the World's most respected connoisseurs of Hollywood Vintage posters and co-owns The Reel Poster Gallery in Nottinghill which he co-founded with Bruce Marchant back in 1991. Audrey Hepburn the Paramount Years (Boxtree) is Nourmand's 14th book. His books, which are still in print, have sold more than 1 million copies worldwide. I had an opportunity to speak to Tony Nourmand who shared his views and interests with me.

Darius KADIVAR (DK): Tell us a little about your background?

Tony Nourmand (TN): I was born in Tehran in 1965 and moved to London in 1976. In the early 80s, I completed a degree in Painting and Animation from Central School of Art (now Central St. Martins). After my degree, I dabbled for a few years in trying to make independent films.

DK: How long have you been collecting posters and memorabilia? What got you interested in films in the first place?

TN: I have always been interested in film and cinema. When I was a child in Iran, either my dad or my uncle would take me to the cinema every weekend. Back then; my uncle was friends with quite a few cinema managers and owners. They would give me posters to pin up on my walls. Every week, I would tear the old one down and put up a new one. I actually bought my first original film poster in 1979 – the British poster for Apocalypse Now. My interest grew and I started having to sell some posters to pay for my hobby. Eventually this habit grew into the business that I run today. In 1992, I was asked to catalogue a large collection of film posters acquired by Christie's London. The success of this auction led to the establishment in 1995 of Christie's bi-annual Vintage Film Poster sales, which continue to this day. I was Christie's Vintage Film Poster consultant between 1992 and 2003.

DK: On what criteria do you evaluate the rarity and price of a movie poster?

TN: There are four or five main criteria when evaluating a movie poster. The importance or popularity of the film itself, and the poster's design, rarity and condition.

DK: What has been the most expensive sale to date?

TN: In 2005, we handled the sale of the German poster for Metropolis, considered by many to be the holy grail of science-fiction posters. It sold for $690,000 (£425,000) – a world record price for any vintage poster (including works by Toulouse-Lautrec or Paul Colin.)

DK: Who are your customers?

TN: Our customers come from all walks of life and all corners of the world. We sell to Oscar-winning A-list celebrities, Museums and institutions (including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and The Library of Congress), as well as the general public.

DK: How have movie posters evolved over the years? Was there a distinct style between the Silent Era and the Talkies, the Black& White and Technicolor age?

TN: The major change in poster design happened in the late 80s. Prior to this date, movie posters were the primary source of marketing for films. A lot of thought and imagination would go into the design. After this date, with the rise of the internet and other mediums such as DVD, poster art became less important as the main marketing tool and as a consequence less and less attention was given to the product. The rise in digital imaging and photography has also changed the way posters are created, and designers often have to work within contractual constraints that stipulate that actors heads / names etc have to be a set size on the poster.

DK: Which film genres provide the most imaginative in your opinion?

TN: This is a difficult question and it is very hard to pinpoint down to a particular genre. There are imaginative and interesting designs in all genres, but if you had to pin me down, I would say that the most creative posters come from Eastern Europe in the 50, 60s and 70s, where the artists were given complete freedom to interpret the film and express themselves.


DK: Were there major differences between Posters distributed in the US and those in Europe for the same Hollywood film?

TN: Up until the late-70s, all countries had completely different poster designs for the same film – this is because different distribution companies were in charge in each country and they had to cater to the different psyches. This is one of the most interesting aspects of what I deal in. From the late-70s to today, the same image or photos are used on posters from around the world-for example; the image for Jaws (which has a shark swimming up towards a girl) was reproduced on the US, British, Japanese, French, Spanish and Italian posters.

DK: Alfred Hitchcock I am sure you would agree was very aware of his own marketing potential. He did not hesitate to even appear on some posters like with his cameo (Birds is one that comes to mind) roles. Why don't we see the same with directors today like Tim Burton for instance?

TN: Regarding Hitchcock, you are right in that he was very aware of his own marketing potential. This is especially true on posters for re-releases of his films, which more often include his image in the design. This has the consequence of increasing their value and in some instances, the re-release commands more money than the first original release. As regards modern directors, for example, Tarantino, his name in large letters is enough to attract attention. E.g., the first poster issued for Kill Bill: Vol 1, had an image of a sword and in big letters it read "Quentin Tarantino's Fourth Film."

DK: Could you tell us more on your latest tribute book to Audrey Hepburn?

TN: Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years is different to all the other books that I have done up to this point. My previous publications were solely devoted to poster art, whereas the Hepburn book includes original still photographs (both on and off set), magazine covers, fashion sketches, and numerous biographies and essays on the different films and people involved in forming Hepburn's image.

DK: What was so unique about Audrey (in comparison to other Hollywood Vamps like Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner) that caught your attention?

TN: It actually happened the other way round. I was approached by the publishers to do a book on Hepburn. It was not until I started looking into her career in detail, that I fully appreciated the impact she had and still has on popular culture. Incidentally, in the gallery, she is by far our biggest selling star.

DK: There seems to be an ever-growing appetite for art books on films in recent years. What explains the success of this type of publication today?

TN: Arguably cinema is the most important art form of the twentieth century. It has permeated all levels of our society and its influence on all areas of popular culture can be acutely seen. I think this explains its continued popularity.

DK: Have the DVD's and the Bonus features curbed the volume of such publications or on the contrary encouraged sales?

TN: Bonus features on DVD's etc are really for major film buffs, whereas publications appeal to a wider audience. I don't really see the two as being that closely connected to be honest.

DK: As a movie enthusiast, do you also have any knowledge or interest in Iranian films and posters? Do you have any rare posters from before the Revolution? Did any survive?

TN: I am a huge fan of Iranian Cinema. Abbas Kiarostami is one of my favorite directors and for me; he is on a par with legends like Fellini, Kurosawa, Truffaut and Godard etc. In fact, his film Close-Up is in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made. I also very much like earlier films such as The Cow (Gaav) 1969 by Darius Mehrjui and A Simple Event (Yek Etefagh sadeh) 1973 by Sohrab Shahid Saless to name a few.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to track down original Iranian posters for these films. As far as I know, the posters that are on exhibit in the Tehran Museum of Film are American or European posters for Iranian films. I would love to find the originals. I do buy posters for Iranian films that I like whenever I come across them.

DK: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to purchase a film poster of some value?

TN: Do your research. Buy what you like, and not what you think you should buy. Be careful of condition and originality.

DK: What would you take with you on a Desert Island?

TN: I would take my partner Roxanna, a DVD player, DVDs and an endless supply of good food.


Quick facts:

Full Name: Tony Nourmand

Born In (city & date): Tehran, 1965

Favorite Color: Blue

Favorite City: New York

Favorite Dish: a good plate of Spaghetti

Favorite Drink: Vodka

Favorite Film: Chinatown

Languages: In order of competency: English, Farsi
Currently Reading: A biography on director Francis Ford Coppola
Currently Writing: "The Unofficial Godfather in Pictures" (out October 2007)

Author's notes:
Official Website: The Reel Poster Gallery
Tony Nourmand's books are available at

Recommended Readings :


Sultan of my heart: Monika Jalili and Noorsaaz's remembrance of things past... by Darius KADIVAR


Persian Golden Boys In Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR

-Iranian Pioneers in French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR


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