After months of hearing about it from friends and designers, I finally got a chance to see the documentary, Helvetica, on the big screen this past weekend, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a lively, amusing and interesting look at the typeface that, in a short 50 years, has become completely integrated into our daily lives, for all the good and the bad that this implies.
The movie’s rhythm is masterful. Initially it draws you completely into the beauty and strength inherent in Helvetica’s design. Then, it takes you to the point where you’re absolutely sick of it—and ready to abolish it by fiat—before bringing you back around to an appreciation of what a well-designed (if overused) typeface it truly is. Director Gary Hustwit assembled a great cast of historical figures and modern designers who talk passionately (and with great humor) about design, typography and culture. Even if you’re not a type nerd, you’ll find the quickly paced little film a very nice diversion. You will also be very glad that the broad use of grunge typography seems to have finally run its course.
The movie hasn’t had a wide release—it’s been playing sporadically in cities and at festivals across the U.S., Canada and Europe, but the good news is that it’s finally available on DVD, with an additional hour of interviews as part of the special features. It’s priced at $25, but the film’s Web site still has it for the pre-order price of $20. (It’s also available for rental via Netflix.) It isn’t on the iTunes Store, which is a shame, since the Mac is the biggest prop in the movie—we didn’t count a single PC on-screen.