Helvetica

Film

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Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>5</span>/5

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5
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Time Out says

Tue Sep 4 2007

Could first-time American director Gary Hustwit be the architect of a New Banal documentary movement? With ‘Helvetica’ he produces a gleefully engaging investigation into the world’s most ubiquitous typeface, uncovering a minor shit storm in the world of graphic design as well as broadening the cinematic and analytical potential of the documentary form in the process. Tracing the roots of the Helvetica (née Neue Haas Grotesk) font back to a small foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland in the 1950s, the film charts its rise as a staple of corporate logos, warning signs and any form of communication that requires a direct, pithy and functional mode of expression. It's almost absurd that something so quotidian could provoke such controversy but, as we soon discover, the graphic design world is very much split over its cultural connotations and artistic worth, allying it as easily with fascism as socialism, progress as decline, superficiality as substance. One highlight is an interview with German typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann who goes so far as to compare the uniform appearance of the font to Nazi soldiers marching in line. In fact, every one of Hustwit's shrewdly selected interviewees has extremely strong opinions on the subject, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of generational or creative link as to why a designer will love or loathe the font; some see it as a design masterpiece which will never be bettered, others see it as emblemic of a creative drought and serves as nothing more than an easy design solution for lazy creatives.

Artfully photographed, sharply edited and propelled by a gorgeous ambient rock soundtrack, it’s a film which owes more – in philosophy perhaps more than style – to the measured docu-realism of Nicholas Philibert than the bombast of Michael Moore and has obviously been constructed with its utilitarian subject close to heart. Don't let the mundane subject matter put you off. This is one of the wittiest, most diligently researched, slyly intelligent and quietly captivating documentaries of the year.

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Release details

UK release:

Fri Jun 15, 2007

Duration:

80 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

Gary Hustwit

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LiveReviews|8
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Robert Talarczyk

To The Helvetica Film Team: I recently had the pleasure of watching your movie, Helvetica, and I thought that it was very good overall. However, never once was Geigy Pharmaceutical and its top graphic design team (many now in Helvetica Heaven like Fred Troller, Theo Welti, Marcus Lowe and many others.) mentioned in the role that Helvetica played in the worldwide corporate identity (Branding) that Geigy created using Helvetica. (In the beginning Geigy originally had an exclusive contractual agreement for the use of Helvetica to my knowledge) Geigy literally wrote the book on Corporate/Brand Identity through their in-house design group both in Basel and in the U.S. which many others followed throughout the world and in many cases still follow. We all have creative license to create history as we choose and that is very acceptable here in the colonies, but to have the Swiss designers who were interviewed in your film leave Geigy out is astonishing. 
 All the designers interviewed missed a valuable part of Graphic Design History by leaving out the incredible Graphic Design movement at Geigy, Basel. There has been nothing like it since. Maybe you were aware of this or maybe it was edited out.... but unfortunately many young and growing designers have lost a valuable piece of inspiring graphic design/type history desperately needed in today's industry. Geigy In-House Design  ( design/copy standards continued through the merger of Ciba & Geigy ) played a very important role in the use of Helvetica globally in setting Swiss Design standards including the grid, flush left, copy setting and copy writing standards. Most of all, when design©= concept, the audience would actually be GRABBED by the combination of graphic+headline and would actually READ stunning copy in an era of perfection and creativity when design© ruled. In my opinion, you had the opportunity to preserve a fabulous movement in global graphic design© concept guided by Helvetica. Clean & Simple... when marketing wasn't a department and design& copy had a godfather... or today when creativity and democracy = mediocrity. It doesn't have to be good anymore... just good enough. Thanks,  Bob Talarczyk, Creative Director/CEO Darkhorse Design, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA Former Design Director, Producer Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals,U.S.A. This correspondence is in response to 
seeing the film, Helvetica. October 6, 2008 (this email was originally sent to the creators of Helvetica (the film) Swiss Dots, London with no response)

Robert Talarczyk

To The Helvetica Film Team: I recently had the pleasure of watching your movie, Helvetica, and I thought that it was very good overall. However, never once was Geigy Pharmaceutical and its top graphic design team (many now in Helvetica Heaven like Fred Troller, Theo Welti, Marcus Lowe and many others.) mentioned in the role that Helvetica played in the worldwide corporate identity (Branding) that Geigy created using Helvetica. (In the beginning Geigy originally had an exclusive contractual agreement for the use of Helvetica to my knowledge) Geigy literally wrote the book on Corporate/Brand Identity through their in-house design group both in Basel and in the U.S. which many others followed throughout the world and in many cases still follow. We all have creative license to create history as we choose and that is very acceptable here in the colonies, but to have the Swiss designers who were interviewed in your film leave Geigy out is astonishing. 
 All the designers interviewed missed a valuable part of Graphic Design History by leaving out the incredible Graphic Design movement at Geigy, Basel. There has been nothing like it since. Maybe you were aware of this or maybe it was edited out.... but unfortunately many young and growing designers have lost a valuable piece of inspiring graphic design/type history desperately needed in today's industry. Geigy In-House Design  ( design/copy standards continued through the merger of Ciba & Geigy ) played a very important role in the use of Helvetica globally in setting Swiss Design standards including the grid, flush left, copy setting and copy writing standards. Most of all, when design©= concept, the audience would actually be GRABBED by the combination of graphic+headline and would actually READ stunning copy in an era of perfection and creativity when design© ruled. In my opinion, you had the opportunity to preserve a fabulous movement in global graphic design© concept guided by Helvetica. Clean & Simple... when marketing wasn't a department and design& copy had a godfather... or today when creativity and democracy = mediocrity. It doesn't have to be good anymore... just good enough. Thanks,  Bob Talarczyk, Creative Director/CEO Darkhorse Design, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA Former Design Director, Producer Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals,U.S.A. This correspondence is in response to 
seeing the film, Helvetica. October 6, 2008 (this email was originally sent to the creators of Helvetica (the film) Swiss Dots, London with no response)

D Groves

Not a type nerd, but loved the passion all the people displayed for the like or dislike of this font. Students even commented on how they've noticed it everywhere since viewing this film.I'll never use Arial again! Great work - bring us more in the future..

D Groves

Not a type nerd, but loved the passion all the people displayed for the like or dislike of this font. Students even commented on how they've noticed it everywhere since viewing this film.I'll never use Arial again! Great work - bring us more in the future..

jo boissevain

Totally and unexpectedly inspiring. The way the 50 year old font has become the 'default' - has survived the backlash of the 80s and 90s nd is now embraced by a new generation of designers who accept its swiss perfection and its modernist base (form = function) and understand you can put your own take on it. Interesting too to see how it became the font of America when (I 'd always thought) it was purely European. The Americans just put it into italics and created Microsoft!

jo boissevain

Totally and unexpectedly inspiring. The way the 50 year old font has become the 'default' - has survived the backlash of the 80s and 90s nd is now embraced by a new generation of designers who accept its swiss perfection and its modernist base (form = function) and understand you can put your own take on it. Interesting too to see how it became the font of America when (I 'd always thought) it was purely European. The Americans just put it into italics and created Microsoft!

ram

Inspiring in its nod to the designers of yore. I absolutely enjoyed this film. I'm not a designer by any stretch, but have always been fascinated by it, and the use of language and text. It really is empowering for a non-talent like myself, as well, as it discusses the proliferation of the democratizing of the tools of production. It has caused me to look much more closely at the written word in the world around me. A must see for the corporate and anti establishment types alike. It explores the way a typeface can polarize a society. While the topic may be considered 'mundane' to some, this films' treatment of it was anything but.

ram

Inspiring in its nod to the designers of yore. I absolutely enjoyed this film. I'm not a designer by any stretch, but have always been fascinated by it, and the use of language and text. It really is empowering for a non-talent like myself, as well, as it discusses the proliferation of the democratizing of the tools of production. It has caused me to look much more closely at the written word in the world around me. A must see for the corporate and anti establishment types alike. It explores the way a typeface can polarize a society. While the topic may be considered 'mundane' to some, this films' treatment of it was anything but.