Who would have thought that the history of a typeface would fill a feature-length documentary--and have the narrative sweep of an epic biography? Gary Hustwit's fascinating Helvetica
--the story of the world’s most published font and a window onto the rift between modernism and postmodernism--is a reminder that powerful forces are hard to see when they’re everywhere. Hustwit traces the beginnings of Helvetica to ‘50s postwar idealism and the emergence of the Swiss International Typographical Style, a system of graphic design that answered late modernist design ideals of utilitarianism, community and standardisation in the West. Helvetica was the most noted product of this movement, and Hustwit finds plenty of design historians who claim it as an almost supernaturally clear, simple and direct font: a typeface without political, historical or social bias and therefore suited to convey all kinds of public information--from municipal signs to IRS forms. Sure enough, at the height of Helvetica’s fame as a perfect, inherently ‘pure’ design, the backlash begins, and interviews with new-school designers expose the neutrality of Helvetica: its clarity and efficiency make it the perfect tool of governments and businesses who’d like to seem transparent, accountable, open and honest. In the end, it’s just a very good font--but the film’s near-dystopian montages of Helvetica’s use as the official signage of hundreds of familiar corporate identities feels like the unmasking of a Usual Suspects
-style conspiracy. Like Keyser Söze, Helvetica works hard to convince you it isn't there, but Helvetica
will permanently wake you up to its ubiquity and persuasive force. --Leo Batchelor
A remarkable documentary marking the 50th anniversary of Helvetica, one of the most widely used typefaces of the 20th century. Featuring interviews with leading designers, the film explores the nature of urban design and its impact on our everyday lives. Intelligent and compelling, this is the breakthrough documentary hit of the year.