A film about a typeface? Yes. And not just for typophiles. Gary Hustwit’s witty, provocative, and unexpectedly entertaining documentary about Helvetica, the clean, smooth, durable set of letters which sprang from Switzerland’s Haas Type Foundry 50 years ago and rapidly conquered the world of public words, is a fascinating exploration of graphic design and visual culture. As the film’s footage of the signs and advertisements that crowd any city street reveals, Helvetica is so ubiquitous we barely notice it. From American Airlines to the Gap, it is a preferred partner in corporate identities; from the signage in New York’s subway system to marquees and guideposts across the globe, its easy-to-read, neutral presence orients people with calm authority. Long before personal computers made the phrase known to everyone, Helvetica was an international, all-purpose “default font,” inspiring both admiration and disdain among designers (in the film, Lars M�ller calls it “the perfume of the city,” while Paula Sher reports that she first regarded it as part of “some conspiracy of my mother’s to make me keep the house clean”). Interviewing a stellar cast of designers and typographers, including Erik Spiekermann, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, David Carson, Tobias Frere-Jones, and Matthew Carter (who offers a swift, intriguing description of the initial steps in designing a typeface), Hustwit composes a vivid tapestry of ideas that is stimulating, surprising, and absolutely delightful. If you’ve ever been tantalized by the range of fonts your computer puts at your fingertips, you’ll be captivated by this splendid film. -
About the Author
Now Editor-in-Chief of the Barnes & Noble Review, veteran bookseller James Mustich was a founder, and for twenty years publisher, of the book catalogue A Common Reader.