Who Shot the Serif?

Without the little hats and feet of a Times New Roman or a nice Bookman Old Style, the font Helvetica appears neutral, mutable, a seemingly bored lump of tofu that acts like it would rather be somewhere else -- hence its presence on American Apparel ads. Created 50 years ago, this ubiquitous sans-serif font has been the ultimate capitalist typeface, favored by Jeep, Target, American-Airlines, Gap, North Face, and Staples. It also appears on the ultimate tool of the deal-making tool, the iPhone. In 1982, it was even the victim of identity theft, with the look-alike Arial offering more bounce in the lowercase r and a lobotomized slant to the little t but otherwise nothing new. Now, Gary Hustwit, who produced documentaries about Wilco, Robert Moog, and Death Cab for Cutie, brings us his first directorial effort, Helvetica. That's right: Hustwit made a movie about a font, a single typeface. And it's a good one, with excellent music and sharp interviews with a prickly bunch of designers who have strong opinions about things like glyphs and "descenders." They think with an out-of-the-box passion we can (and should) only dream of -- one manages to compare Helvetica to Nazi soldiers.
Dec. 21-27, 2007

 
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