Helvetica, the movie

I went to see Helvetica today. It is, as the name suggests, a documentary about the typeface, which is 50 years old this year.

Helvetica sample

I enjoyed it. My usual feeling with factual-type documentaries like this (as opposed to narrative-type documentaries like, say, Spellbound) is that they are very slow; that given the same amount of information in written form, you could take it in about ten times quicker. There was something of that in Helvetica, but it’s a visual subject, so it’s well-suited to film. It’s always good to see people talking enthusiastically about their particular area of expertise, and between them the interviewees and the film-makers did a good job of communicating what’s special about Helvetica and placing it in its historical context. It is undoubtedly a remarkably good typeface although the more I saw it over and over again on screen, the more it started looking a bit dated. Not so dated as to be unusable; it’s surely good enough to be a permanent part of the repertoire for hundreds of years. Just a bit tired.

I think you’d need some degree of interest in graphic design to enjoy the film, but you probably don’t need to be a die-hard type geek. My biggest complaint is actually with the cinema; they had the sound too loud and gave me a headache.

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