A documentary about a typeface sounds pretty boring I know; yet for me at least, Helvetica was anything but boring. Maybe it is because I come from a town with a prestigious design school, and some of my good friends are graphic designers, or maybe it is because once I saw this film I began to realise Helvetica was everywhere.
Example. I paused Helvetica to get up and get a cup of coffee. While I waited for the jug to boil low and behold there it was in the flyer for a well-known supermarket. Afterwards, on a drive into town I saw it everywhere, from the signage of major chain stores, to the small name on the side of a plumbers van door, it’s even on road signs. It was like putting on a pair of Hoffman Glasses from John Carpenter’s They Live and suddenly being able to see what had always been all around me.
The documentary is good at balancing views on Helvetica. Some love it while others hate it. Most interestingly however is that the film more widely looks at the graphic design industry and the various changes it has gone through from modernism through to its bastard child post-modernism. There are interviews with radical dudes like Sagmeister and Wim Crouwel, as well as a look at the process of type design by Matthew Carter, which is particularly fascinating. Helvetica also boasts a good soundtrack with tracks by Fourtet, Caribou and Battles and flies by at a suitably brief 80 minutes.
Anyway, there are two other reasons for this post. One is to apologise to type fiends for my unwitting use of the lame Helvetica clone Arial. Upon attempting to remedy this I just discovered WordPress won’t let me so I’ll continue to be an Arial laughing stock (at least I hope this type is actually Arial, if it’s not then nail me to a capital T). Shit. All my design friends must have been secretly scoffing at me for months. Secondly, speaking of design friends, one of the most radical I know is my old school chum Tyrone Ohia. He has a wild bonaza of a blog called Te Blog, where he spends quite a lot of time looking at type and book design. Check it out. His two-part evaluation of a jovial publication called Camping and Cooking is a joy.
I will confess I like Helvetica (the film) as well as Helvetica (the typeface). As one interviewee explains there seems to be something about it that is pleasing to the eye for some almost intangible reason. Having said that, it’s also the font of choice for those goddamn corporations that we all know do nothing but ruin society. Someone should make a documentary about that. Or maybe just a sequel to Helvetica about how shit Curlz is. I know I’d champion that film.