Archive for the 'Film' Category

Film Review: Helvetica

There is perhaps a no more polarizing typeface than Helvetica. If you read the previous sentence and have no idea what I’m talking about it’s definitely worth a trip to see this documentary from (first time) director Gary Hustwit. Helvetica is the most widely seen typeface in the world. Designed in the mid 1950’s, it’s become a default font on every computer in the world and used accordingly.

People interested in graphic design or typography will love the film for the interviews with some of the titans of design, from Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli and Stefan Stagmeister. They provide good insight into their love/disdain for Helvetica and also commentary on the design field in general.

So what’s the problem with Helvetica? The main issue is that its ubiquity has stripped away most of its impact. Having been seen in such disparate places as run-down parking garages to the subways signs of major metropolises, Helvetica has reached a point where it’s basically coded into the brain of every person in the developed world. Everyone sees Helvetica, often several times a day.

I was interested in the film’s coverage of the so-called “Grunge type” era, emulated by David Carson (who is perhaps as polarizing as Helvetica). This period was a direct reaction to the standard of Helvetica and also was a time when hundreds and thousands of new typefaces were being created.

The film ended with an interview designer/writer/publisher Lars Muller, who noted that because of the new social media (he specifically refers to MySpace) everyone is able to customize the typefaces around them. This indicates that the Helveticas of the world will always be there and depended upon. But an individual’s need for self expression is also equally needed and will continued to be explored.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

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Film Review: Confessions of a Superhero

Continuing my fascination with all things avatar, comes Confessions of a Superhero. I bring up the avatar because, even though this is a documentary about real people, the idea of choosing to live behind a mask is the theme of this movie. The film follows the lives of four different “superheros” (Superman, Batman, The Hulk, and Wonder Woman), who are actually out-of-work actors dressed in costumes who walk Hollywood Boulevard offering themselves for photographs.

Their reasons for taking up this occupation (the honorary mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, calls them “panhandlers”) is rooted in wanting to become famous movie stars. But between the different superheros there are varying degrees of deep psychological connection to the characters they emulate.

The person most connected to his superhero character is Superman, Christopher Dennis. He lives and breaths Superman. The scenes in his apartment show tens of thousands of dollars in Superman merchandise. He also looks (and he knows this) eerily similar to Christopher Reeve. Throughout the film he comes across as obsessed, yet sympathetic. It is obvious that there have been very troubling times in his life, and his fascination with Superman is actually a more recent event, as opposed to being obsessed with Superman as a kid. He’s the main character and heart of the film.

The three other people are equally compelling. Maxwell Allen, who is Batman, is charming and genuine on the surface yet masks very deep anger and aggression. He likes to position himself as a vigilante (his stories of being hired muscle for the mob and other tales might be exaggerated) is perfectly in line with the qualities of Batman.

Jo McQueen, who is Hulk, was the audience favorite. Smaller in stature, quiet, and homeless for 4 years, in some ways McQueen inversely portrays the muscle and power of the Hulk.

Finally, there is Jennifer Gehrt as Wonder Woman. To me, she is somewhat of the antithesis to Wonder Woman. Jennifer is more reactive to situations than proactive, she married young and admits that she needs a lot of attention. She is a deeply feeling, emotional person. I don’t know if I’d characterize her as strong though. To her, Wonder Woman is just a way to get by during hard times.

I loved this film, not only because of the compelling characters and beautiful cinematography, but I think there are universal truths to be found in the film. Everyone, in some fashion, believes themselves to be bigger than they really are. They do this by projecting a certain image out to the world. The irony is that the projected image is just a mask and, in fact, sometimes the least interesting part of a person.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

Shootin’ Marbles on the Eastside

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Homegrown Austin production company Beef & Pie premiered Life Is Marbleous! tonight at Red’s Scoot Inn and Bier Garden. The Marble Lady, Cathy Runyan-Svacina, was on hand to lend pointers as snap-buttoned patrons marbled their way through a hard-fought tournament. Haven’t heard of shooting marbles? Okay, neither had I. It’s of an era gone by. And that’s what makes this documentary so unique. Beef & Pie opens our eyes to a simpler world where marbles are collected, bought, sold, shot and all around adored.

Music by honky tonk purist Dale Watson.

Posted by Prentice Howe

Film Review: What Would Jesus Buy?

Sunday night at the Paramount Theatre was the world premiere of What Would Jesus Buy, a documentary from Morgan Spurlock (“star” of Supersize Me) and directed by Rob VanAlkemade. It follows the cross-country road trip of The Church of Stop Shopping and their leader, The Reverend Billy. Now, Billy isn’t a reverend. And The Church isn’t really a church. It’s more like a theater group, performing in the vein of a gospel choir, crusading against overconsumption during the month of December, leading up to Christmas.

The group travels from city to city (and small towns as well) staging performances on street corners, inside shopping malls and even in local churches. Reverend Billy particularly dislikes Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Disneyland (he refers to Mickey Mouse as the Antichrist, and the film’s credits are typeset in a Walt-Disneyish font.) At different points in the film, through a voice-over, various data is given on the amount Americans consume during the holiday season. Some of the clips in the documentary show people stampeding through Best Buys to get a Playstation 3 or Nintendo Wii. There are people-on-the-street interviews, some who have gone into massive debt because of holiday purchases.

But the driving force of the film is the Reverend Billy. Of course he’s charismatic, funny (the kind of funny where he probably doesn’t realize he’s being funny). He’s very driven in his belief, although I would have liked to have seen something to explain why he hates the over-consumption at Christmas so much. It’s funny, because from what I can tell the Reverend doesn’t appear to be particularly religious. That was a bit of a conundrum that I couldn’t wrap my head around. Of course over-consumption is a bad thing. No one wants people getting hurt in a stampede, or going into massive debt. I just was never able to resolve in my head why the motley group was that motivated to embark on the journey.

Regardless, the film basically sticks to its strengths, because Billy is a great character and the film does a good job of equally showing his passions and his follies. People who see this movie may think about spending less when the red and green starts appearing in every store in America, but I get the suspicion that wasn’t the real point of the film in the first place.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 

Helvetica, Dirty Country

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Both of these posted inside the convention center

posted by Bryan Keplesky

TV: The Next Generation

Video on the web was a dominant topic at this panel, which focused on what’s next for video content. Despite being in its infancy, web video is here to stay. Its taken the advertising industry a few years to catch up, but now major companies like Budweiser are dedicating serious dollars to invest in television programming online. Many other companies, if they’re not starting their own dedicated websites to exclusive, original content, are at least taking online videos on third party sites (like Revision3 for example) seriously. The question is can the traditional TV buying system media companies use work on the web? The answer is more no than yes.

Even taking a further step back, advertisers in general are still stuck on the “click through” (i.e. banner ad) methods. Sure YouTube is being scoured for the next Ask A Ninja but it’s getting a lot harder now that more and more general users are becoming sophisticated with video technology.

The one thing that can transcend all the dollars and the numbers, thankfully, still seems to be honesty, trust and creativity. Some companies might be hesitant to create a video and put it out onto third party websites like YouTube or BitTorrent, thus leaving it out of their control. But as long as their content is meaningful and fresh, it doesn’t matter where people find it. Users will go back to the original source to see what’s new.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

WWJB?

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Poster for What Would Jesus Buy?, taped onto an electrical box about a block away from the festival.


What’s Behind the Door?

SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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