The Walker Art Center presents the area premiere of Gary Hustwit’s
Thursday, May 31, 7 and 9:30 pm. A discussion with the director follows the first screening, and he will introduce the second. If the trend in documentary filmmaking is the exposé (think Who Killed the Electric Car? or This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which casts light on the shadowy world of the motion picture ratings board), then Helvetica both fits and breaks this mold. Its subject is a typeface so ubiquitous that it has become recognizable to practically anyone who has lived since its introduction in the late 1950s. Since most people don’t actively look at words but instead read them, the story about Helvetica itself remains a mystery. Leslie Savan might have been the first non-designer to remark on the typeface’s ascendancy in her 1976 Village Voice article, “This typeface is changing your life.” “The ‘signs of the times’ can be found on the literal signs of the times,” she wrote. “The use of Helvetica on so many of them expresses our need for security, for visual proof—if nothing else—that the world’s machinery still runs.” A sans-serif typeface, Helvetica has been described as authoritative, clean, neutral, orderly—a reflection of its Swiss roots. It was the perfect typeface for the modern design world of the 1960s and ’70s, a period of conscientious, even earnest belief in cleaning up the world’s visual environment. 2007, U.S., color, video, 80 minutes. Copresented with AIGA Minnesota.
Helvetica is the directorial debut of Gary Hustwit, who has produced five feature documentaries, including I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the award-winning film about the band Wilco. But why make a film about a typeface? As Hustwit explains, “Since millions of people see and use Helvetica every day, I guess I just wondered, ‘Why?’ 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 50 years later? And what are the repercussions of that popularity? Has it resulted in the globalization of our visual culture? Does a storefront today look the same in Minneapolis, Melbourne, and Munich?”
The result is an exploration of not just a widely used typeface, but one of those rare cinematic occasions to see and hear some of today’s most illustrious graphic designers and typographers, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, and Lars Müller.
Tickets to the screenings are $8 ($6 Walker members/AIGA members, students) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600. The screenings take place in the Walker Cinema.