Helvetica: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit

February 6, 2009

Left: handsetting type, a still from the film, ©Gary Hustwit.

I don't know how I missed this film when it was shown at the Walker (well actually I miss a lot of things so that's wishful thinking). Happily Helvetica A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit was shown on PBS the other night on an episode of Independent Lens.

I watched it twice yesterday! (It's only an hour long.) It's a great tribute to a font that is a ubiquitous part of our visual landscape.

I recommend that everyone watch this film, whether they are graphic designers or artists or even if they think this is something of no interest to them in their daily lives. Type and design do matter in our daily lives and as a person living in the world this film will remind you of that in very clear ways. Additionally the interviews with famous typographers and designers put additional perspective on this 52-year-old typeface.

Sadly, when I checked the Independent Lens listings it didn't come up as scheduled to show, but keep a look out; maybe it will be in your area on PBS or at an art museum theater. You can also get a DVD of the film for $26 at the film's website if you can't wait for a rerun.

Disclaimer: in 22 years working as a graphic designer I can only remember using Helvetica twice: a misguided engineer-author demanded it for book features it wasn't suited for (I didn't have to say "I told you so"); and early on when a book got farmed out to a typesetter with no san serif font choices!) I'm a Frutiger girl; or give me Gil Sans; and so it goes. Just so you know where I'm coming from. I thought the film very balanced!

    • karen
    • February 6, 2009

    From A to shining Z…
    I’m a Helvetica junkie, ever since my first trip to San Francisco in 1974, and still using it. Hustwit’s movie is a boon to graphic designers who’ve been trying to explain what they do to their clueless families. “There’s design all around us… take a look at that matchbook!”

    Roz, if you want to see the movie again, we’ve got the DVD here. And Rachel has a signed “Helvetica” movie poster in her apt. (an undisclosed location).


    • Roz
    • February 6, 2009

    Well Karen, we have this to be thankful for, you could have gone the route of hand drawn posters and circus type also popular in SF in the 70s! Whew! Now we have lovely designs to look at because you went the other way.

    I agree, the movie does a nice job of pointing out the importance of design in daily life.

    I’m glad you have a copy of it so I know I can come over and see it and draw Stella at the same time!

    • joan
    • February 6, 2009

    And you can get it from Netflix, too! (Not an advert…that’s how I saw it). Wonderful.

    • Roz
    • February 7, 2009

    Joan, thanks for writing in about this. That’s great news. I haven’t used Netflix yet but this is another reason to start doing so!

    • Sherm Stevens
    • October 22, 2009

    Just found your blog by accident, looking for some way to view Helvetica. Just discovered that Netflix includes it in their instant viewing movies. Yippee!

    Just heard about this film today while teaching an InDesign class.

    • Roz
    • October 23, 2009

    Sherm, glad you found a way to see the movie. Another one you need to check out I wrote about here:

    You’ll love it!

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