January 23, 2008



Reviewer: Henry Leineweber
Rating (out of 5): ****

"Helvetica is like air. It's instantly recognizable and forgettable." These words are spoken fairly early in Helvetica, a surprisingly fascinating documentary about, of all things, typefaces. Specifically, the Helvetica typeface which was first introduced to graphic designers in the 1960s and has since become a worldwide phenomenon. From its roots in classical Danish printer's workshops, to the explosion of '60s mod culture, to its eventual adoption by corporate and government public-relations teams, I found myself realizing that I see the Helvetica typeface (don't call it a font) dozens of times per day without ever noticing it.

Gary Hustwit's documentary is peppered with these sort of “Ah-ha” moments. The engrossing film is propelled along by solid interviews with graphic designers and typographers, and the film moves at a fairly brisk pace, coming in at just under 80 minutes. DVD extras include extended interviews with all the experts that appear in the film, and while I found some to be definitely more interesting than others, all those appearing on camera contribute to the narrative of the film.

Helvetica is a short, sweet, and to-the-point documentary, and a great viewing experience. As an added bonus, you will no doubt start to find yourself spotting the typeface in the most unexpected places.

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Posted by cphillips at January 23, 2008 11:32 AM

Henry's review is on the nose. HELVETICA is a must-see for those of us who've done any designing or typsetting (in these computer times, it's more like type-choosing). In any case, this documentary is more facinting than you'd ever suspect -- given its subject matter.

Posted by: James van Maanen at January 28, 2008 3:51 PM