Compared to the last movie we watched in class, “Page One: Inside the New York Times”, Helvetica feels much more like a straight documentary. The main way information is conveyed is through dialog which, more often than not, consists of people speaking into the camera. They answer implied questions in a straight interview style, sometimes showing off their work while they talk. Their names and occupations appear at the bottom of the screen for a few seconds which is about all the introduction you get towards them. The rest you’re supposed to pick up from what they say. It definitely gives the sense that a lot of information is being conveyed, and a lot of important, factual information besides, but is somewhat hard to follow. And unless the audience finds the talk particularly interesting, paying attention can be a bit difficult as well.
It does give a good sense of what Helvetica is and how it has ingrained itself into society. The portions where the camera moves around the street and shows all the different places where the font has appeared in advertising and signage does well to convey its importance. If someone was unaware that the font used on street signs was Helvetica (like I was), it’s a bit eye opening. The font has truly become something of a staple in modern society. The go to for advertising due to how easy to understand and unobtrusive it is. Throw in a look that screamed ‘modern’ at the time and it was simple to turn it into the norm.
However, the film doesn’t do as well making the people who study or made Helvetica very memorable. The entire movie is done in an interview style with very little variance. Good for letting them speak their minds about the subject, but there aren’t parts that truly stick out save for a few instances where they went out to the street. Most of the film is simply a fixed position camera on a person whose name appears for half a minute and speaks for around five. It is somewhat difficult to keep track of who is who. The information itself is a bit more memorable, but not in any way that sticks for more than a few days. People who are really interested in typography or language will probably have a far easier time following along than the average viewer.
One thing of particular note is that the film isn’t one sided. While they are outnumbered by people who like and approve of Helvetica, there were a couple (both graphic designers) who expressed an extreme dislike of the font. They call it boring and corporate which is kind of true given how much and where it is used. It is a nice surprise from a movie that at first glance could be expected to glorify Helvetica.
While it is somewhat interesting to listen to, it obviously is intended as an educational piece and isn’t really all that entertaining. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that it didn’t get much screen time these days outside of classrooms and those who have a genuine interest in typography.