Saturday, September 22, 2007

Helvetica & Hello

Well, I'm just one in a long tradition of girls to step into her boyfriends blog and take on co-ownership. I wont try to compete with Michael's perceptive and articulate comments on film, past or present, but hopefully my presence here will promote some kind of dialogue that might interest someone other than us!

On that note, I'll start by discussing a film I saw last night that was too low brow for Michael to accompany me to. It's called Helvetica, and it's about Helvetica. So if you are interested in typeface you'll be interested, otherwise you mightn't waste your time. There were some great interviews with some hilariously snobby people. (They were to typography what Michael is to film.) (Passionate, I meant.)

All in all, I couldn’t help but think that the film was a filmic embodiment of what Helvetica is itself, at least as one of the interviewees defined it. Basically a vessel, without its own inherent meaning, designed to carry content. So, I guess that works. But I have an issue with that, which is (a less vehement) parallel to the reason why Michael wouldn’t see the film in the first place. It was a fairly typical documentary, with (really great) interviews, and lots of footage of Helvetica in our lives and streets. But it did nothing creative with the topic, which is incredibly rich. It was exactly what you expected, and the content was great. But the filmmakers made their film in Helvetica font – it did nothing to colour our perception of the content, it simply displayed it for us.

Also, I was expecting some cool graphic stuff, for a film made by people who are presumably passionate about design.

The friend I saw Helvetica with is a designer, and her complaint is that the content was too commercial. I don’t have her background, so I cant fully appreciate her stance, but I would have to say that I liked that it was commercial-oriented. The film was about how the font has snuck insidiously into our cultural awareness. It’s just there. Like air, as one designer noted. You have to breathe, so you use Helvetica. And unfortunately, most of visual communication and design is sunk into marketing, so that’s the appropriate place for this film to have positioned itself, I thought. Although they did spend an awful lot of time in that American Apparel store.

Still, I’d have to say I liked the film a whole lot. It gave me lots of time to think about Helvetica, and typeface in general, and snotty, middle class European designers, and the best part is that it made me laugh at least half of the time. The designers they chose to interview probably were really huge designers, if you know anything about design (I don’t), but they were funny, and fun to watch. The openings credits were the best – an old printer setting the word Helvetica by hand, and grunting unconsciously as he does his work. It was not extremely original, but pretty, and interesting, and funny. Kind of sums up the film in general, so maybe just disregard everything else you just read.

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