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Helvetica – In the movies!

September 27, 2008

 

The Life and Times of a Typeface

Published: September 12, 2007

 

“Helvetica,” a feature-length documentary about that typeface, promises too much information. Luckily, the filmmaker Gary Hustwit — who was an executive producer of the mesmerizing “Moog,” about the analog synthesizer — has a knack for finding a universe within a narrow topic.

 

 

Overlong but fascinating, Mr. Hustwit’s documentary posits Helvetica — a sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 at the Haas Foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland — as an emblem of the machine age, a harbinger of globalization and an ally of modern art’s impulse toward innovation, simplicity and abstraction. Its versatility is showcased in shots of storefronts, street signs, public transportation systems, government forms, advertisements and newspaper vending boxes.

 

 

The film’s provocative, lively interviews with graphic designers and theorists — including Massimo Vignelli, who created directional signs for the New York City subway system, and David Carson, author of “The End of Print” — assess Helvetica’s impact on human life and thought. Some praise it as a conceptual breakthrough; others blast it as a lowest-common-denominator typeface whose use both reflects and perpetuates conformity.

 

 

Whomever you end up siding with, you’re guaranteed to spend the next few days scanning the world for Helvetica like a child on a cross-country car trip playing I Spy.

 

 

HELVETICA

 

 

Opens today in Manhattan.

 

 

Produced and directed by Gary Hustwit; director of photography, Luke Geissbuhler; edited by Shelby Siegel; released by Swiss Dots/Veer. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 80 minutes. This film is not rated.

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