Helvetica

  • 2007
  • 1 HR 20 MIN
  • NR
  • Documentary

"It's a very thin line between simple and clean and powerful, and simple and clean and boring," says type-world bad boy David Carson, crystallizing the pros and cons of the typeface called Helvetica. And if a documentary about a font sounds beyond dull, rest assured that after seeing Gary Hustwit's film, you will never again fail to notice the sleek, clean,...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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"It's a very thin line between simple and clean and powerful, and simple and clean and boring," says type-world bad boy David Carson, crystallizing the pros and cons of the typeface called Helvetica. And if a documentary about a font sounds beyond dull, rest assured that after seeing Gary Hustwit's film, you will never again fail to notice the sleek, clean, ubiquitous sans serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss graphic designer Max Miedinger that is loved and hated to equal degrees by designers and typographers.

Originally dubbed "Neue Haas Grotesk" — it was, as the name suggests, a variation on an existing typeface — Helvetica was a reaction to the busy, decorative-type treatments favored by generations of industrial and editorial designers. Helvetica was modern, unfussy and forward-looking; it let the text shine through the type and favored the message over the medium. Or so claim its impassioned defenders, who view Helvetica's rapid and widespread adoption as a classic example of the better mousetrap bringing the world to its door. Helvetica's rebellious detractors brand it the print equivalent of kudzu — the font became a slyly bossy weed that colonized the design world, suffocating more elegant and imaginative fonts and resisting all efforts to root it out. Poor Helvetica, first hailed as the future of typography then reviled as a tool of global conformity! Though the film occasionally feels padded — we get it, Helvetica is everywhere! — it's also brimming with smart cultural observations, including the insight that social networking sites like MySpace made fonts (and other design elements) as integral a part of personal identity as clothes or a haircut or posters on a dorm-room wall. A font, something that meant nothing to most people until they started working on computers.

Though their interest sometime borders on obsessive, Hustwit's stellar roster of experts parse Helvetica's origins and implications with engaging passion and striking articulateness.

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: "It's a very thin line between simple and clean and powerful, and simple and clean and boring," says type-world bad boy David Carson, crystallizing the pros and cons of the typeface called Helvetica. And if a documentary about a font sounds beyond dull, re… (more)

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