Not rated. Because it's a movie about a font. I think that there might be one curse word throughout this movie. It's really nothing to worry about. If there had to be a rating, I'm sure it would be G. (That's not actually true. I'm sure it would be PG because it is live action.) There is some talk about taking down the font establishment, so I guess that is something that a parent could be worried about.
DIRECTOR: Gary Hustwit
I thought this movie would be right up my alley. In college, I made a few bucks. I'm not talking about a lot of money, but I did cash the occasional check doing design work for people. No one ever taught me, but I did a project on Photoshop and learned that I really liked Photoshop. It was through my work for folks that I became obsessed with fonts. Unlike riding a bike, you have to keep up with fonts. I used to talk a really mean font game, but now I can only recognize a few of my favorites when they are used publicly. But I thought that I might ride the nostalgia train to a film that exclusively talked about fonts. I thought that this movie was for me and only for me. Nope. This movie is for graphic designers, despite what other people might say.
I remember when this movie started making the rounds. We can all agree that it is an absurd idea. The movie isn't even named "Fonts". I'm sure some people could jump on board that idea. No, the movie is primarily about Helvetica, the font. There is some deviation from that idea to some degree. Usually it comes from the Helvetica naysayers. The people who don't care for Helvetica tend to talk about why Helvetica sucks and why they use other fonts. But mostly, this movie stresses about how much Helvetica is used in daily life. This font is a variation of Helvetica, so I guess I'm kind of proving the movie's point. The most interesting aspect of this film is the awareness that the movie brings to how we've all established that everything should be Helvetica. It probably is the most common text style, especially when it comes to rudimentary marketing. If you want to make something seem modern (in terms of a genre of style), the movie advocates that you use Helvetica. American Airlines uses Helvetica and does everything else. Every interview is intercut with footage of Helvetica used in everyday life. There's a lot of Helvetica around. What is actually made me realize is that I'm more font blind than I thought I was. (I used to be the guy walking around just pointing out fonts, but what I'm really doing is pointing out obvious font / kerning combinations.) Because the focus of the movie is so narrow, the movie decides to teach the viewer everything about Helvetica. The first third of the movie is devoted to the creation of Helvetica. This is where things get a little dry. I don't think I've seen a documentary that was made for public consumption where a group of interviewees got so inside baseball. I would love if this was an intentional decision on the part of the filmmakers --but I doubt that it is --that the guys that are interviewed honestly think that they are rock stars. I suppose that, in their inner circles, they probably are legends. It feels like an old boys club talking about their punk rock childhoods. They talk about the chaotic days of the old savage marketing days.
I guess this is where they kind of lose me. I like the old days. I love handscripted text that is coupled with images. I know, it's not all of that stuff. I'm sure that if i was inundated with the same style of art design time and time again, I would itch for something more modern. Partly, the documentary advocates what I'm saying. The love of Helvetica and the beginning of modernism is contrasted with the anti-Helvetica movement. I guess the movie wants me to have my own opinion on the matter. But the old glory hounds talk about how they were changing the world. It's so weird that they are right. They did change the world. But it is in such a way that no one could really notice. It's a bizarre reason to be a rock star. There's a moment in the film where an employee for a lettering office shows the original binder for Helvetica. It's like opening the Holy Grail. There's nothing ironic about this moment and I applaud the filmmakers for not taking the movie in that direction. But the movie discusses the need to create one of the most legible and appealing fonts ever created and all I can do is sit back and decide "Did it matter?" I love / loved fonts. I really do / did. But the birth of Helvetica wasn't a movement to change society. It just kind of happened. The creator of Helvetica simply wanted a really crisp and clear font that just happened to be the most accessible font ever. The rock star attitude seems to stem out of admiration and a feeling of success. But the world only changed drastically in an innocuous way. If Helvetica didn't come around, I don't know if the world would look that different. Something else like Helvetica would have happened. Perhaps, somewhere in the multiverse, there's a variation that covers the breadth of ads that use this font. There's also a chicken-and-egg thing going on. The movie contends that Helvetica inspired people to think outside the box when it came to advertisement. But did graphic designers really see Helvetica first and were then surrounded by their ad choices. Some of them definitely did. It's funny to see some of the graphic designers discuss that they only use three fonts for everything they do. That's a weird choice. I don't deny that Helvetica is a good choice, but how boring would that be? (The movie criticizes this through counter-arguments, so don't worry.)
I partially don't quite get it. I thought that this movie was going to make graphic design something that could be discussed by anyone. But I'm a patient guy who really likes this stuff, so why did I find myself getting bored? While the movie is relatively short, the focus is still far to narrow to really be accessible to the common viewer. It was hard to write a review for this because, shy of commenting on every moment in nuanced fashion, I couldn't give the movie its due justice. Instead, I find myself commenting on moments and how they add or detract from the overall piece. Yeah, there's a part where a graphic designer equates Helvetica with the Vietnam War. But, to that, I have to relate the same idea to what I thought about Room 237, which was the ridiculous The Shining documentary. What you can comment is that an observation is silly, but what else can be added to writing about it? I wanted this movie to be more. I wanted to hear the common man or someone outside the world of graphic design commenting on Helvetica and how it changed their lives. Instead, this feels kind of jargon-y. Even more so, it seems like listening to a bunch of friends at a part that you don't know talking about a season of television that you've never heard about. It needs to be more and I'm a little bummed that it isn't.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.