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Lust, Helvetica

Lust, Helvetica

(Project 365 Day 358)

Last weekend, I watched the documentary Helvetica. Yes, the font. It's only had special screenings, not wide release, but it'll be out on DVD next month. The film mostly consists of interviews with typographers, and it's pretty crazy how excited some people get about Helvetica! It would've probably been better at 60 minutes instead of 80, but I still really enjoyed it.

Helvetica was invented in 1957 in Switzerland. It was meant to be the ultimate Modernist typeface, neutral, utilitarian, communicating information without adding connotations of its own. It has since spread to be, well, everywhere. I'm pretty sure the air bag warning on my car's visor flap (pictured) is in Helvetica.

So some people see it as practically the culmination of Western society or something. :P Meanwhile, other people utterly despise Helvetica (and they think Microsoft's clone, Arial, is even worse), because it has seen such widespread use by corporations, and because people are lazy and tend to just use Helvetica by default.

I took this photo right after watching the new Ang Lee movie, Lust, Caution (which the "Warning" reminded me of). I really liked it. It has this epic yet personal feel of a classic film. Lee put so much loving detail into developing the environment of World War II era Shanghai and Hong Kong. The movie is really intense (my new favorite word), which is also its theme. The much ballyhooed sex scenes are definitely relevant to the plot; they were more unnerving than titillating, showing the contrast between these moments of freedom and the cautious, calculated world that the characters usually inhabit. (I really liked the opening scene of four women playing Mahjongg, making ostensible small talk where they tensely and carefully choose each word.)

Hm. Maybe that's the argument against Helvetica. It's cautious. It's restrained. It attempts to reveal as little emotion as possible while speaking a controlled, calculated message. Sometimes we need more lustful fonts.

And yet, giving in to our primal desires may lead to tragic consequences... like bad page layout.

Helvetica: Toast Toast Toast and a half Lust, Caution: Toast Toast Toast Toast [ Rating Key ]

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 14, 2007.

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