Helvetica turns 50 next year and it’s getting a pretty fancy gift: a biopic. Helvetica, the first feature-length film about a font, will premiere in 2007. The official website launched today.
Now that you’ve all gasped and snickered, let me add that this will be no comic parody. Helvetica is serious stuff. It’s probably the most pervasive and well-known of all typefaces, and one of the more controversial — the perfect window through which to introduce general audiences to the esoteric world typography. As Director Gary Hustwit explains:
Why make a film about a typeface, let alone a feature documentary film about Helvetica? Because it’s all around us. You’ve probably already seen Helvetica several times today. It might have told you which subway platform you needed, or tried to sell you investment services or vacation getaways in the ads in your morning paper … How did a typeface drawn by a little-known Swiss designer in 1957 become one of the most popular ways for us to communicate our words fifty years later?
The film is studded with the stars of typography: Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Michael Bierut, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Stefan Sagmeister, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset. Hustwit is no slouch either. His resume includes I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the 2002 film about Wilco, considered by many to be one of the best documentaries about a band and the music industry.
A scene from Helvetica shot at Manfred Schulz’ letterpress in Frankfurt.
A sneak preview of Helvetica will be screened at TypeCon in Boston on Wednesday, August 9th, as part of The Third Annual Typophile Film Festival. I’ll be there. Share some popcorn with me as we boo and hiss at the villain Arial, should he dare make an appearance.
See also: The Helvetica Meditations
Had a few ideas of my own for Helvetica posters, see below!
This email correspondence is in response to
seeing the film, Helvetica. October 6, 2008
To The Helvetica Film Team:
I recently had the pleasure of watching your movie,
Helvetica, and I thought that it was very good overall.
However, never once was Geigy Pharmaceutical and its
top graphic design team (many now in Helvetica Heaven
like Fred Troller, Theo Welti, Marcus Lowe and many
others.) mentioned in the role that Helvetica played in the
worldwide corporate identity (Branding) that Geigy
created using Helvetica. (In the beginning Geigy originally
had an exclusive contractual agreement for the use of
Helvetica to my knowledge) Geigy literally wrote the book
on Corporate/Brand Identity through their in-house design
group both in Basel and in the U.S. which many others
followed throughout the world and in many cases still
follow. We all have creative license to create history as
we choose and that is very acceptable here in the
colonies, but to have the Swiss designers who were
interviewed in your film leave Geigy out is astonishing.
All the designers interviewed missed a valuable part of
Graphic Design History by leaving out the incredible
Graphic Design movement at Geigy, Basel. There has
been nothing like it since. Maybe you were aware of this
or maybe it was edited out…. but unfortunately many
young and growing designers have lost a valuable piece
of inspiring graphic design/type history needed in today’s
industry. Geigy In-House Design ( design/copy standards
continued through the merger of Ciba & Geigy ) played a
very important role in the use of
Helvetica globally in setting Swiss Design standards
including the grid, flush left, copy setting and copy writing
standards. Most of all, when design©= concept, the
audience would actually be GRABBED by the
combination of graphic+headline and would actually
READ stunning copy in an era of perfection and creativity
when design© ruled. In my opinion, you had the
opportunity to preserve a fabulous movement in global
graphic design© concept guided by Helvetica. Clean
& Simple… when marketing wasn’t a department and
design& copy had a godfather… or today when creativity
and democracy = mediocrity. It doesn’t have to be good
anymore… just good enough.
Darkhorse Design, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Former Design Director, Producer Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals,U.S.A.
(this email was originally sent to the creators of Helvetica (the film) Swiss Dots, London with no response)
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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles, also of Fonts In Use and The Mid-Century Modernist.
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