Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Helvetica: The Movie

I was so excited about this film, a documentary all about the typeface Helvetica, that I pre-ordered the DVD. I thoroughly enjoyed my first viewing at home, while Gary fled to the spare bedroom to watch "Prison Break" or similar. I don't blame him. It is fairly dry. Although bunches of critics can't be wrong -- this is a film with jillions of award nominations. I have to give credit to Gary Hustwit, a designer and filmmaker responsible for "Hevetica" -- he realized that there are millions of designers out there, all noticing this sort of thing, and all fascinated, even consumed by it.

Once I found out I would be teaching Typography I, I knew it would be a natural for my students, and I showed it at one of our first classes, and we ended up referring to it for the remainder of the term. I recommend it to all my designer friends, or anyone with a love of the visuals we encounter every day.

The film is an ode to Helvetica, but it is also a history of 20th century graphic design (and a little bit of 21st century). It is a "who's who" of contemporary graphic design, and it includes such luminaries as Massimo Vignelli, Neville Brody, David Carson, Paula Scher and Stephan Sagmeister! And not everyone (as you can imagine from this lineup) is pro-Helvetica. Paula Scher considers it the font of the "man" or the establishment. But some of-the-moment designers like this group called Experimental Jetset are in love with it, and use it in a more ironic way -- not in the literal way, for example, Massimo used it.

Its amazing that so much could be said for a typeface that was designed to be neutral and fade into the background. And once you see the shots throughout the film of the various places it is used where we would probably overlook it, you realize you have been changed by this film. Everywhere you go, you'll spot Helvetica. Even more than perhaps you used to. At least that was true for me. I guess the message is that we are all slightly changed or affected by this typeface, whether we realize it or not.

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