14 February 2010 | bob the moo
Engaging and accessible documentary with good structure and contributors
As many others have already said – a documentary film that appears to be about the font Helvetica (or indeed any font) is hardly something that is screaming out to a wide audience or likely to be screening to packed crowds in the American heartlands. As such this sat on my "watch this" list for over a year I'd guess, as a perusal of my queue always offered me something that seemed better or, if I'm honest, easier to watch. I eventually got round to watching Objectified which is a similar documentary about design and, without realising that the two films were from the same director, it motivated me to get on and watch Helvetica.
Like Objectified I found that the film did a great job of laying out the topic in a clear and accessible manner. It builds a very effective and engaging discussion on the font in particular but also the wider arena of graphic design and typefaces that are all around us. The structure of the film is the foundation that makes it work – it doesn't jump into the deep end of the topic and it manages to be suitable for the casual viewer (which I am) while also avoiding being patronising to those that work in this sector. This is the groundwork and it is well built on by the selection and use of a very good collection of designers and experts in the field – almost all of whom are passionate, well spoken, interesting and, most importantly, not "up themselves" or self-important in the way that some of those in design or art can be.
These talking heads help the film maintain an open, accessible approach while the visual design and packaging of the film itself keeps everything lively for the eye and the ear as well – never going into the realm of a dry academic approach to the topic. So yes, Helvetica may sound like it is going to be a very niche film and as much fun as a holiday slideshow from a dull uncle but it is actually light, accessible and engaging due to the structure and design of the film and a great selection of contributors.