Friday, December 28, 2007


During the late summer just before my friend Dan Devening, an artist, gallery owner and college professor, went to Austria on a fellowship (show-off) he told me about a film he just saw called Helvetica. It's a documentary about the typeface by that name and the revolution it has caused and the reaction to that revolution. Who would have thunk that a documentary about a font could be so interesting, but it was.

A lot of filmmaking is about paying attention to details. In fact almost all good art in some way pays attention to the little things. And perhaps there is no group of artists more into the details than graphic designers. Throughout Helvetica one watches half-crazed designers discuss the greatness of the font, while another group of designers talks about how Helvetica is a curse. One camp thinks fonts should be neutral while the other group says fonts should add something to the text. As a side note my favorite font- until seeing this film- has always been "default."

In addition to the joys of watching passionate artists in a great debate, and learning a lot about how typefaces are created and used, Helvetica is also visually very stunning and has quite a lot of humor in it. (Though it helps if you think it is funny that all the graphics in the film and in the subtitled part of the DVD are also set in Helvetica.) The director, Gary Hustwit, and his crew take great pains to frame all of the interviews and visuals -there is a lot of signage in the film- with great care.

To me Helvetica is an example of just how great the documentary form can be. Here is a film about something few of us care about and all take for granted(at one point Helvetica font is compared to air) yet our attention is riveted. I suggest you check it out.