Titles & End Credits

Changing fashions in movie titles are one of the richest veins in typography’s fossil record. On his website, graphic designer Christian Annyas has put together a nice collection of movie title stills — both opening and end credits — offering a handy synopsis of twentieth century lettering. Rather than an exhaustive survey, Annyas has curated a small and personal collection that’s conveniently organized by decade: dipping into any period offers a convenient way of getting a taste for the lettering of the era.

Keep an eye out for “in-camera” lettering, in which lettering is incorporated into on-screen props. The book in Jeux Interdits uses a popular trope; the telephone in Dial M for Murder and the playing cards of Le Roman d’un Tricheur have become classics. Truly stirring is the occasional title that feels jarringly modern: The Fly has the sort of purposeful unease that still strikes a chill, fifty-one years later. —JH

Data Visualization of the Day

Jason Kottke turned me on to this fantastic data visualization by Zach Beane, showing this year’s box office gross for American movies. Like this related graphic at The New York Times, it uses the x-axis for time and the height of each node to indicate revenue, but presents the data in a way that allows readers to infer four additional kinds of information — without having to complicate the graphic:

The position on the y-axis represents each film’s rank, revealing the importance of a strong opening weekend (but begging the question of how The Bucket List, which opened in 23rd place, became the #1 movie in America the following week; something to do with New Year’s Day?) The slope of each line conveys the distinction between films with a slow burn (Juno) and those that flamed out (Cloverfield.) Beane makes a rare and non-gratuitous use of color to distinguish individual data lines, where the occasional dissonance identifies films with box office longevity: the thread of mint green running through the purple of early May highlights the inexplicable endurance of Horton Hears a Who. And the height of the y-axis overall charts seasonal trends in the industry at large, confirming that July is considerably more important than April.

Finally, I appreciate the way Beane used rollovers to reveal the names of the films themselves. A lesser designer would have given this information primacy, but Beane recognized that the titles, while crucial, are not the story themselves. Isn’t it nice when a bold decision is demonstrably the right one? —JH

Objectified: A New Film by Gary Hustwit

Ever since director Gary Hustwit invited me to appear in his film Helvetica, life has changed for me in two ways. First, I get recognized on the street from time to time (always with the implied aren’t you that type dork) — but second, and more rewardingly, I periodically find myself sitting on a panel with the director. It was at just such an event last autumn that Gary mentioned his new project, a documentary about industrial design. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise: earlier in the evening, our conversation had touched upon a mutual appreciation of the IWC Portuguese wristwatch and the Porsche 356 Speedster. But I was thrilled and delighted nonetheless, and have been looking forward to the project ever since. The film is Objectified, its website is up, and I am counting down the days until its 2009 premiere.

I’ve always loved industrial design, but I don’t think I’d measured the depth of my affection until I took a spin through the movie’s production stills. I knew I could look forward to hearing more from Marc Newson and Apple’s Jonathan Ive, but I hadn’t anticipated so many other wonderful participants: Hella Jongerius is featured, whose work I’ve always found brilliant, witty and uplifting, and I’m especially looking forward to the segment featuring Dieter Rams, chief of design at Braun from 1961 to 1995. Beyond being one of the most influential designers in the history of his craft, Rams is simply a cool cat: that’s him above, with what looks to be his 606 Universal Shelving System, and a modular hi-fi that I physically crave. Look at it: it’s smart, stylish, functional, and badass; it’s the Steve McQueen of audio equipment. And it’s just the beginning. —JH

Not Playing at a Theater Near You

Now appearing at Vanity Fair is a great exhibit of lobby cards from the collection of the late Leonard Schrader. From Schrader’s collection of 8,462 items the editors have chosen an attractive and representative set of 36 that celebrates the golden age of lettering, before its ultimate fall to typography.

At left, an excerpt from Saved by Wireless, Joe and Mia May’s 1919 epic about which the IMDB is strangely silent. (Judging from the cavemen, presumably it does not deal with the convenience of 802.11; been there, though.) Other highlights include MGM’s The Devil Doll, whose inside-out lettering prefigures Roger Excoffon’s Calypso typeface of 1958, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis rendered in a whimsical style of lettering that befits the movie’s cheery themes of dystopianism, technological isolation, and internecine strife. For ages six and up. —JH

Helvetica for the Holidays

Christmas is about more than just eggnog and carols and sitting by the tree. It’s about having to explain to your family yet again what exactly it is that you do for a living, and suffering through comparisons with your cousin who’s “also into computers.”

If there’s anything that mom and dad truly need this holiday season, it’s to be tied to the andirons and belabored about the head with a copy of Jan Tschichold’s collected essays in the original German (still available in hardcover.) But in the spirit of giving, as well as various local ordinances, get them instead a copy of Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica on DVD, which goes on sale today. It’s smart, engaging, witty, and a great introduction to graphic design for the non-designers who spawned you. It also affords ample opportunity to use the phrase “that’s Hoefler&Co: I buy fonts from those guys all the time,” which mom and dad might remember come next year. —JH

Fonts in Space

Our erstwhile language researcher and font developer Luke Joyner (not pictured) files this dispatch from the campus of the University of Chicago:

A recent late-show at U. Chicago’s Doc Films was Plan 10 from Outer Space, a stinker of a B-movie that’s somehow unrelated to Plan 9 from Outer Space, Ed Wood’s better-known cult classic. Plan 10 includes the standard staples of the genre: extraterrestrials with beehives for heads, musical numbers, an assassin in the employ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and a major plot point involving typography.


The Guerilla Anagrammer

Photo: Jack Szwergold

One of Andy’s photographs features his friend Albert walking before a giant FU on a Williamsburg sidewalk. “The letters used to spell out You Are Beautiful,” Andy explained, “before someone started moving them around the neighborhood…” It reminded me of a similar bit of guerilla anagramming in my neighborhood: a few years ago, our local movie theater finally gave up the ghost after 93 years. During the brief interregnum between tenants, someone had a few weeks of nighttime fun with the marquee.

For a while, I got most of my news from this sign, whether it was the looming SARS epidemic or the equally ominous appointment of Chief Justice Roberts. Jack Szwergold has collected them all on Flickr; the ones that make the least sense are among the most entertaining. —JH

A Treasury of Hollywood Lettering

Lettering buffs and cinephiles alike may enjoy this lovely Flickr set containing final frames of classic films. Romantically, these hearken back to an age before typesetting replaced hand-lettering as a matter of convenience, but sociologically they tell another interesting story as well. A movie concluding with “The End,” perhaps followed by a list of its major players, definitively dates a film to before the rise of the unions, which now negotiate on-screen credits for even off-screen contributors. Best Boys and Key Grips are old hat: today it’s Mouse Wranglers and Assistant Caterers who are the little people, along with the occasional Compositing Inferno Artist. (But where are the type designers, hm?) See this fascinating infographic in The New York Times, comparing the length of the credits in Casablanca with those in Lord of the Rings. —JH

Eight Screenings; Five Degrees

The New York premiere of Helvetica sold out so quickly that we almost didn’t get seats, and we’re in the film. So get your tickets now for the NYC cinema run, which starts Wednesday at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. Director Gary Hustwit will be on hand for a few of the screenings, as will a few of my co-stars; check the film’s calendar for the full scoop.

BREAKING — It’s through Helvetica that we’re connected to David Carson, through Addicted to Love that he’s connected to Matthew Broderick, through War Games that Matthew’s connected to Maury Chaykin, and through Where the Truth Lies that Maury’s connected to Kevin Bacon, bringing the H&Co Bacon Number to a sizzling four. —JH

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