7.2/10
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33 user 30 critic

Helvetica (2007)

Not Rated | | Documentary | 12 September 2007 (USA)
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1:39 | Trailer

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A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

Director:

Gary Hustwit
Reviews
3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Manfred Schulz Manfred Schulz ... Himself
Massimo Vignelli Massimo Vignelli ... Himself
Rick Poynor Rick Poynor ... Himself
Wim Crouwel Wim Crouwel ... Himself
Matthew Carter Matthew Carter ... Himself
Alfred Hoffmann Alfred Hoffmann ... Himself
Mike Parker Mike Parker ... Himself
Otmar Hoefer Otmar Hoefer ... Himself
Bruno Steinert Bruno Steinert ... Himself
Hermann Zapf Hermann Zapf ... Himself
Michael Bierut Michael Bierut ... Himself
Leslie Savan Leslie Savan ... Herself
Tobias Frere-Jones Tobias Frere-Jones ... Himself
Jonathan Hoefler Jonathan Hoefler ... Himself
Erik Spiekermann Erik Spiekermann ... Himself
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Storyline

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Documentary

Certificate:

Not Rated

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

12 September 2007 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Гельветика See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$16,614, 18 September 2007, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$204,000, 1 June 2008
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Veer,Swiss Dots See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Quotes

[first lines]
Rick Poynor: Type is saying things to us all the time. Typefaces express a mood, an atmosphere. They give words a certain coloring.
Michael Bierut: Everywhere you look you see typefaces. But there's one you probably see more than any other one, and that's Helvetica. You know, there it is, and it seems to come from no where. You know, it seems like air? It seems like gravity?
Jonathan Hoefler: And it's hard to evaluate it. It's like being asked what you think about off-white paint. It's just... it's just there. And it's hard to ...
[...]
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Gary Gulman: It's About Time (2016) See more »

Soundtracks

Seqy Chords 3
Written and Performed by Sam Prekop
The Afternoon Speaker Music
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Unrepresented Presentation
26 May 2008 | by tedgSee all my reviews

This is surely the best documentary I have seen. I use several metrics in this.

A film is almost without exception a story. A documentary is usually presumed to be a found story, an existing one that the filmmaker merely exposes. We come to the thing expecting some coherent story, already formed, the problem having two threads: Can we trust the filmmaker? Does the story resonate? Often a solid position in one mitigates the other.

But real life — at least the life I know — has no stories that are blunt. Real stories, the ones that weave themselves through the world, are rich, only somewhat visible, immensely intriguing and often educational. I expect to be puzzled. If there are "two sides," I immediately mistrust the teller, because true movement is simply itself.

This film should be celebrated simply because it decides to present a story in its unformed state. We hear from designers young and old, clever and not. Some are geniuses and some see the genius of design and we have no idea which is which. They report profoundly different views on a typeface. Lest we think this is an irrelevant subject, the observations on the typeface are bridged by examples to show how thoroughly it has saturated.

So we are left with the same form as "Ten Tiny Love Stories," perspectives that surround the notion and instead of pulling out the answer, illuminated the mystery. The simple fact is that this is a powerful, mysterious force that makes us do things. The comparison of font design and romance is not misplaced: both somehow relate to the bricks of stories we use in constructing a life — or for some of us a fort to protect from life.

So I can recommend this to you. I recommend seeing it with your partner, your real partner. And then sit with them quietly and reflect on the nature of clarity and knowing.

I can criticize this though. There is much that could easily have been said that wasn't.

Its usually presumed that spoken language is quite old and written language a relatively modern technology compromised to make it persist. In this context, type design is merely a matter of style, a choice.

But there is evidence that spoken language predates modern humans and evolved over time through collaborative toolmaking, most particularly weaving and stonechipping. Acts of hands. Shapes -- physical form, with symmetries. Spoken language in this history is itself an adaptation, and written language perhaps closer to the core of how we think. In this history, shapes matter. The process of creating form in story — all manner of form — matters. The story is how the story is shaped.

We bump against this intuitively. It was why the Macintosh was a giant step forward in the 80's, because storytellers could for the first time be storyshapers (publishers, in the corporate lexicon). And why Microsoft is such an evil. And why type design elements have become so deeply viral. The original features come from carved inscriptions and independently from monks' pens.

Anyway, from that Mac beginning came a focus on type as never before. And several design journals that struggled with the issues spoken about in this film. Pulling them out of print to put on screen should carry some more weight than we have here. I am hoping that some truly talented filmmaker is inspired by this.

The most edgy but still intelligent design and font design journal from the last decades is "Emigre," which you should peruse if this movie intrigues you. Also you might want to check out Darius, who was behind the first designed font.

My typeface is Vendetta.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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