April 18, 2011

Helvetica

 

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. Released in 2007, on the anniversary of the typeface, it engages us in a conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them. Through discussions with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type, the viewer gains a deeper understanding of the impact type choice has on our impression and interpretation of the written word. You can't talk about Helvetica without talking about the context; Modernism versus postmodernism, logical, rational, clear design versus the emotional and subjective.
 
Directed by Gary Hustwit, the story is told through poetic shots of the font's use worldwide and interviews with designers with strong opinion about Helvetica. Talented designers share their views including Massimo Vignelli, Neville Brody, Matthew Carter, Wim Crouwel, and Alfred Hoffmann, whose father, Eduard, designed the font with Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland.
 
"Like its seemingly neutral Swiss-born subject, the film says a great deal without raising its voice, lending wit and grace to an inquiry regarding the way a medium, a squiggle or the precise space between two letters affects a million different messages and a billion different eyeballs. The real achievement of the picture, though, is the way it sharpens your eye in general and makes connections between form and content, and between art and life. By rounding up a great group of eloquent obsessives eager to explain their feelings about a font, Hustwit has come up with 80 unexpectedly blissful minutes."
- Chicago Tribune
 
With the success of Helvetica, director Gary Hustwit has continued to produce a series of films focused on design. "Five years ago I began work on my first documentary, Helvetica, which looked at the worlds of typography and graphic design, and their impact on our visual environment. After Helvetica was released in 2007, I had the idea for a second film, Objectified, which focused on industrial design and product design, and our relationship with the manufactured objects that surround us. While working onObjectified, I realized I wanted to make a third film that would also examine how design affects our lives, and began thinking of the films as a “design trilogy” of sorts. The third documentary in this trilogy is about the design of cities. Urbanized looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design, featuring some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. Over half the world’s population now lives in an urban area, and 75% will call a city home by 2050. But while some cities are experiencing explosive growth, others are shrinking. The challenges of balancing housing, mobility, public space, civic engagement, economic development, and environmental policy are fast becoming universal concerns. Yet much of the dialogue on these issues is disconnected from the public domain". Gary Hustwit
 
 
I really enjoyed the Helvetica film. I must say I fall in the modernist camp of loving the type. To me it is a simple, clean and powerful expression. In the film Massimo Vignelli talks about the beautiful, timeless quality of the Helvetica font. He has an affinity for it, as he used it exclusively in the design of the NYC transit system. "It is the space between the notes that makes music. With typography, it is the space between the white". It is a figure ground relationship, where the space between holds the letters. I believe this expression is true in many design disciplines;  in Art, Architecture, and sculpture. It comes down to balance and clarity of the composition.

I'm looking forward to Gary's movie looking at urban landscapes and the architecture of cities.  Watch the video trailer for the third movie in the trilogy urbanized, due out in late 2011/early 2012.

Helvetica is now available as a digital download for USA iTunes users.
 
Images and excerpts: http://www.helveticafilm.com
 

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