Helvetica

Documentary

  • Produced and directed by Gary Hustwit

Director Gary Hustwit clearly feels passionate about typefaces. So do the graphic designers he interviews. Some consider the ubiquitous san serif font for which the movie is named to be brilliant and almost sacred–the perfect choice for everything. Another, only half joking, blames Helvetica for the Iraq war.

Unfortunately, Hustwit fails to pass this passion on to the audience. Helvetica has its interesting moments–a narrative about the font’s creation in Switzerland in the 1950’s, a font designer’s explanation of his work methods–but not enough to fill 80 minutes. So Hustwit fills it with dull opinions and duller montages of street signs all printed in, of course, Helvetica.

Had I known more about the subject, I might have enjoyed Helvetica. It’s no coincidence that its best moments are the few where it offers facts instead of opinions. I wanted more facts. How come the lettering on all those signs looked so different when they were all the same font? How much can you change the look of a font before it’s a different font? And what does Linotype, the company that owns Helvetica, actually own? The name? Certainly not the right to sue Microsoft for copying Helvetica and calling it Arial.

But Hustwit doesn’t seem interested in these basics. He appears to have made a documentary for people already familiar with the subject.