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Collector Wil Wright with an old James Bond movie poster: “It was straight from the army to Dr Who.” Photo/John Collie

A Christchurch man's mammoth film poster collection

A century of movie posters showcase the golden age of film in a home-based Christchurch gallery.

Wil Wright’s Sumner home is perched at vertigo-inducing heights above Christchurch, and floor-to-ceiling windows offer a spectacular view. But the real drawcard, now open to the public, is his mammoth collection of more than 12,000 international and local film posters.

By appointment, visitors to the Film Poster Gallery can explore the house’s many rooms and hallways. The spaces are professionally lit, with an ever-changing collection hung from suspended wire; even the staircase and kitchen walls have been carefully curated.

“People have more of a connection to an old movie poster than other forms of artwork,” says Wright, a British war veteran who’s spent the past decade in New Zealand, where he met his wife, Alexandra, a research physician and part-time GP. “You remember the movie as a child, or from a first date, so they’re quite appealing. Right now, we’re showing Star Wars, westerns, war movies and musicals. But we have everything from horror to Hitchcock to Ivanhoe to the old silent movies of the 1920s, and New Zealand classics like Sleeping Dogs and Smash Palace.”

It’s not a cheap passion. He’s spent thousands of dollars having original posters restored by specialists in the United States; they remove mould, treat the posters with a bleaching process, and carefully retouch faded colour. “More often than not, it costs more to frame the posters than they are worth,” says Wright, who sells duplicate copies online to help cover his costs. “Mysterious Pilots from 1937 is the only one known to exist. A third of it is missing, and it has no real value because it’s so destroyed, but we spent $2000 on it.”

Wright has more than 12,000 international and local film posters. Photo/John Collie

Wright spent 15 years on active service, predominately as a paratrooper, working in hotspots such as Sierra Leone and Iraq. He then had three years in the New Zealand Defence Force before retiring for good and immersing himself in the very different world of movie-poster art – but there is a link.

“I’d reached the rank of sergeant with the British airborne brigade, so I had peaked with operational work and started working on movies instead, teaching actors how to use firearms,” he says. “It was straight from the army to Dr Who in Cardiff.”

Wright himself can be seen fleetingly in many films. “If the weapon was too technical or dangerous and might injure a main actor, then I’d do it myself. So I was a sniper on a rooftop shooting zombies, then a German World War I fighter pilot. I’ve been in TV shows like EastEnders, and played a bank robber in The Bill.”

Cinematic history needs to be mapped or it risks being lost, warns Wright. “Now, people see the trailers online, but back then, the poster was it – there to draw you in. Getting people to buy a ticket was all about that poster.” Over summer, he hopes to open a pop-up gallery in the city and possibly find a permanent space for his collection. “We just want to show these things off,” he says.

This article was first published in the September 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.