Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)
Photograph: Dogwoof
  • Film
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Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)

4 out of 5 stars

What if the best art, music and photography documentaries of the year were all one film?

David Hughes

Time Out says

If record sleeves are the poor man’s art collection, as Noel Gallagher is fond of saying, the work of Hipgnosis is like MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Tate Modern rolled into one. 

The two-man art collective – Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell and the late Storm Thorgerson – was behind many of the most famous album covers of the 1970s, from Pink Floyd’s prismatic ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ – arguably the single most iconic album cover of all time – to Led Zeppelin’s naked-moppets-on-the-Giant’s-Causeway ‘Houses of the Holy’, plus classic images for other British pop and rock legend like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, 10cc, Peter Gabriel and Wings.

There’s a great deal of overlap with Roddy Bogawa’s 2011 documentary Taken by Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis, made while Thorgerson was still alive, and – as the title suggests – heroing his contribution to the partnership. (Humility was not Thorgerson’s strong point; his friendship with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters ended because Thorgerson claimed credit for Waters’ pig-flying-over-Battersea-Power-Station idea.) Yet it’s hard to imagine the Hipgnosis story being told by a more qualified admirer than photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn (Control), whose monochromatic photography was key to establishing the image of 1980s music acts such as U2, The Smiths and Depeche Mode.

Underpinned by a new interview with Powell, Corbijn traces Hipgnosis back to their first collaboration, the psychedelic sleeve for Pink Floyd’s second album, 1968’s ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, on their way to becoming the most sought-after album cover artists of the era. He leaves the story just as the Sex Pistols arrive, loudly proclaiming the end of the era with their ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirts.

It’s hard to imagine anyone more qualified to tell this story than Anton Corbijn

Among those waxing lyrical about Po and Storm’s contribution to the art form are Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel and Noel Gallagher – the latter a relatively recent convert to the value of good sleeve art. They’re abetted by a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage, photography and equally colourful stories about how the most iconic album sleeves came to be (‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ was inspired by the Black Magic chocolates box, apparently).

Aside from one misstep – a four-minute needle-drop from Strauss’s ‘The Blue Danube’ waltz – the music’s terrific, too. Corbijn’s stellar playlist of the featured bands’s music is powerful enough to kickstart a prog-rock revival.

It all adds up to a fascinating, amusing and enjoyably illusion-shattering study of the creative process, suggesting that modern art owes as much to opportunity and happenstance as it does to talent. 

In UK cinemas Jul 14.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Anton Corbijn
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