Friday, March 13, 2009

Helvetica: Did Someone Really Make A Feature-Length Movie About A Font?!

My wife fell asleep 15 minutes into watching Helvetica. When she woke up the next morning she turned to me and said, “A 90 minute movie featuring a bunch of Dutch guys talking about typography? Was that the worst movie ever?!” Absolutely not, I loved it. To be fair, I’m a bit obsessed with design these days, but I loved this movie. Helvetica is ostensibly a brief history of design from post-WWII to the present, looking at how design infiltrates every day life. Art movements, culture movements, advertising movements and corporate culture get viewed through the lens of design, particularly typography. The movie is beautifully shot, with lots of poetic urban landscapes, featuring the ubiquitous Helvetica appearing on signs, busses, subway maps, billboards, backpacks, etc. Helvetica, a font designed by the Swiss (not the Dutch, honey) shortly after World War II, became the torch bearing font of the modernist design movement. The movie explores the appeal of Helvetica from a design, cultural and corporate perspective. It also becomes the fulcrum with which the film explores subsequent movements in design. I loved most of the interviews. Obsessive wingnuts, waxing rhapsodically about type faces. Is this any different than all the obsessives I’ve heard talk about comics and record collecting over the years? Not really, except they were all really clean cut, metrosexual and they had really nice apartments and workspaces with clean lines. But ultimately just as weird. I liked it.

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