by Greg Carlson
Movie-oriented T-shirt culture has grown by leaps and bounds over the last twenty-some years. Did you ever think there would be a time when someone would create a Martin Scorsese shirt consisting only of his last name, rendered in the same typeface used for the Scorpions logo? Not only has the shirt been popular among the film crowd, but it was featured in an unrelated major motion picture (Funny People, of all things.) Back in the pre-Internet days, if you wanted a Texas Chain Saw Massacre T-shirt, and the local authorities weren’t immediately alerted, you would have to go down to the independently-owned clothing boutique in the sketchy part of town, and muster up the courage to ask the intimidating-looking clerk if there was one available in your size. Nowadays, you have literally hundreds of options – a quick Google Images search proves that you don’t have to be satisfied with the standard “official logo across the chest” tee. Do you look good in yellow? No problem, option #17 is Leatherface in silhouette on a yellow tee. Want a design that imagines Leatherface as four suit-and-sunglasses-wearing criminals, a la Reservoir Dogs? Click on option #32. Your options aren’t even limited to the star of the movie anymore – you can show how much of a TCSM fan you are by wearing a shirt adorned with Leatherface’s brother/revered chili chef Drayton Sawyer.
The detailed, specific-scene-referencing movie-themed T-shirts and other garments found on Etsy, Teespring, 6dollarshirts, and many others are by the fans, for the fans, and are probably avoiding major copyright lawsuits by flying under the radar, or slightly altering the likeliness of the film’s characters/logos, or both of the above. Back in the day, before irony and a longing for all things retro/nostalgic hadn’t set in yet, official movie T-shirts were only processed for proven or predicted box-office hits, and once Batman or Return of the Jedi left theaters, the shirts would most likely be donated or used for rags. The promotional tees that the studios would print up to give away at preview screenings or as gifts to arts/entertainment editors of various media outlets were meant to have an even shorter shelf life than the official wearable merchandise, a quick screen printing job of the logo on cheap fabric
Having amassed a sizeable collection of official, promotional, and “inspired by” movie T-shirts, the one that I find the most unique is my 3:10 to Yuma shirt (the 2007 remake) that I acquired while working for a certain movie database that’s on the Internet. For a promotional item put out by a major movie studio hyping their potential blockbuster film, repurposing the Puma logo on a plain white tee is a pretty clever design, resembling something that Banksy would paint on the side of a London building. The marketing rep who oversaw the shirt’s design took a significant gamble, as hip athletic footwear and westerns don’t necessarily share the same demographic. Perhaps they wanted to reach a younger, streetwise (?) audience with this film, and went with this visual mash-up, a pre-social media meme style that would cause someone who was not well-versed in westerns to check out the film.
Whatever the logic was, it worked for me. Although not a major blockbuster back in the day, 3:10 to Yuma has Christian Bale and Russell Crowe at the top of their ‘00s game. Bale brings his usual high level of commitment to the role of Dan Evans, a damaged (in more ways than one), down-on-his-luck rancher just trying to do the right thing. Crowe is all brooding intensity, as Ben Wade, an outlaw with intellect and his own moral code. When the two of them share a scene, getting to know one another behind the shackles and cocked guns, it’s like two top-level athletes sparring with one another.
Given the respective reputations of Bale and Crowe, it’s great to see them in action without one of them trying to one-up the other in the Method acting game. The scene-stealing is left to Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, Wade’s right-hand man. Unlike his boss, Prince is an irredeemable villain, an uneasy combination of flamboyance, hair-trigger tendencies, and a broken moral compass. Imagine Captain Jack Sparrow as a sober psychopath. As with most westerns, there are no small roles, and memorable supporting character parts are turned in by Kevin Durand, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, and most notably Peter Fonda as a world-weary Pinkerton agent.
Having the Puma/Yuma shirt in my clothes drawer serves as a constant reminder that I needed to revisit the movie. I’m glad I did, and my 3:10 to Yuma Blu-ray and tee will remain in my permanent collection. I’m not deterred by the fact that the shirt is two sizes too small – additional Google searches have provided me with instructions on how to stretch out a shirt, or how to make a nice throw pillow out of unused garments with sentimental value.
About Greg Carlson: I’m a huge movie fan who frequents Scarecrow Video on a regular basis. My top three films are (in random order): “Time Bandits”, “Repo Man”, and “Taxi Driver.” In my spare time, I like to hunt for vinyl records and kitschy items old-school-style, via thrift stores and estate sales – eBay and Craigslist are not part of the strategery.