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Film: Helvetica

September 16, 2007

There are some film titles which guarantee to make my eyes pop out on stalks the moment I hear about them.

Helvetica an 80 minute documentary featuring the a typeface used the world over for the past 50 years may not immediately appeal. But seeing as it appeals to my inner graphic-design-trainspotter tendencies, I figure there must be quite a few others out there for whom the opportunity to watch such a lengthy piece about something which appears so fundamentally dull is an exciting prospect.

We went go and see the film at The Institute of Contemporary Art’s where the £8 ticket price failed to meet expectations. The box office staff were full of attitude, the bar staff less than accommodating, the seating intimate in an uncomfortable kind of way and the man sitting to my right reeked of body-odour.

If that wasn’t enough, it frequently felt as though I was watching the documentary with a collective of graphic designers for whom every other line in the documentary offered an opportunity to snort with tiresome self-importance. There really is nothing worse than people laughing at things which really aren’t that funny. I can tell immediately when its going on and then it starts to wind me up considerably.

Fortunately, I did take action, something I urge everyone else to do if you find yourself in a situation where the entertainment you’ve paid for is in danger of being a let down. The tall man with curly hair who sat directly in front of me and the screen seemed happy to grant the request I whispered in his ear to move slightly further down in his chair. The man beside also seemed to think twice about laughing quite so much after I whispered under my breath (although it probably wasn’t a whisper) that “it wasn’t that funny”. Sadly, there was very little I could do about his appalling body odour and to point it out at the end of the film seemed redundant, if a little insensitive.

I did enjoy the film, however. Helvetica is a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking. It’s stylishly directly, and effortlessly edited resulting in a visual experience which will result in you leaving the cinema feeling as though you’ve been a graphic designer for the whole of your life even if the job you actually do is something completely different. Amid street scenes and real life examples of the font itself, expect to hear passionate and amusing anecdotes from the film’s many contributors along with an account of the typeface’s development.

I know. It may not immediately sound like a must-see film. It’s a surprise genre and an even more surprising subject. Still, if you’re up for something a little different from the norm then be sure to give it a go.

I heartily recommend you watch it at home when it’s available on DVD, however.

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