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June 15, 2007

Nice Chicago Tribune review…

…and Shelby gets a shout-out! There have actually been quite a few nice articles published recently, if I get a sec I’ll post a few links.

Movie review: ‘Helvetica’
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune movie critic
**** (4/4 stars)

The wonderful new documentary “Helvetica” introduces us to a global array of typographers and design wonks delving into the subject of the world’s most familiar typeface, the one used to brand everything from IRS tax forms to American Airlines to the half-price ticket booth in Times Square.

This does not sound like promising cinematic material. Yet 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.

Producer-director Gary Hustwit, who has backed several music-themed documentaries, turns here to the subject of visual music, born 50 years ago in a type foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland. “Neue Haas Grotesk” was the original name of the font designed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann. “Helvetica,” Latin for Switzerland, proved a fortuitous substitution, and shortly after the parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font to the world in 1961, the world ate it up.

Something — everything — about Helvetica captured a clean, welcoming Swiss modernist idea. “It seems to come from nowhere … like air,” one designer marvels. “It seems like gravity.” A half-century later Helvetica has become as common (in the words of one interview subject) as “off-white paint.” And to some it has morphed into a symbol of soothing corporate imagery that cannot be trusted.

The American graphic designer Michael Bierut offers some hilarious riffs about how Helvetica went over in the ’60s, after decades of fancy, script-y, wedding-invitation lettering and a surfeit of exclamation points used to sell us products. Here, he says, was a cool, rational font that defied the exclamation point. Designer Jonathan Hoefler refers to its “finality.” With lovely conciseness, design writer Rick Poynor speaks of the post-World War II need to rebuild and rethink the graphic landscape, and the desire to suggest a more democratic universe.

Hustwit filmed “Helvetica” on high-definition video in seven different countries. The way he and editor Shelby Siegel have assembled the street scenes, Helvetica emerges from every billboard, every other shop window. 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.


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Sandra says

Jun 21, 2007

I saw Helvetica last night at the Siskel Film Center (Chicago Loop). It was fabulous ! It's everything you want a film to be ... thought-provoking, visually beautiful, entertaining, and it's got great music to boot. You will learn, you will laugh, and you will feel uplifted when you leave the theater. A must see !

Cassi says

Jul 03, 2007

I'm so disappointed I missed it while it was in Chicago. I was in the city that weekend, too, but with a group who wanted to go out to the bars instead... I hope it's coming out on DVD?

Gary says

Jul 03, 2007

Cassi, the film is coming back for an encore run at the Siskel, September 21 to 27. So hopefully you can catch it then, or the DVD will be out in October nationwide.


Deja says

Jul 14, 2007

Because I am a writer, the title caught my eye. I read about it in The Chicago Reader. I was visiting Chicago, having arrived on June 21 just that morning, on the last day of screening at the Gene Siskel theater. My friend and I were fortunate to get a ticket to the 8pm showing, as the 6:15 was sold out. This little film was thought-provoking, informative and entertaining. I'm telling all my friends to see it. I been seduced and have loved the helvetica typeface from the first time I saw it, and I'm amazed at just how pervasively helvetica is used worldwide. It's not the only typeface, but it's a beautiful one. Well done Mr. Hustwit. Well done indeed.

Jim Rimmer says

Jul 19, 2007

I got my first glimpses of Helvetica in trade journals in the early 60's. The Mergenthaler Linotype company offered it for sale in text sizes. As art director of a daily paper/commercial printer, I was allowed to order Linotype matrices in two sizes, and since I could not have both the italic and boldface variants on the two-letter mats, I chose the regular weight and the boldface in 10 and 12 point.

We used the new type to great advantage, and later on bought a few display sizes in foundry type.

Of course, I loved the type when I first saw it. Who did not?

It may have suffered here and there as it was adapted in several technologies over the past 50 years, but it survives in grand style, in my opinion in its better variants.

I look forward to getting the DVD.