Gary Hustwit

Culture Warrior

The music video is in terminal condition, if not certainly dead. MTV hasn’t been associated with music for a long time, and nobody invests real money in the format that formerly revolutionized the relationship between audiences and musicians. The music video had a great run, introducing us to visionary directors and creating profound visual iconography whose power was unmatched by album covers and promotional materials, but beyond the occasional breakout video that circulates on YouTube, it’s time to say goodbye to the format that brought us everything from “Billy Jean” to “Frontier Psychiatrist.” In the past few years a new music/video hybrid has become increasingly prevalent. The “visual album” (as coined by Animal Collective) continues to emerge as a means of creative visual expression and (often) as a form of cross-promotion for an album. Unlike music videos, visual albums stage, sometimes with interruptions, the majority of a musician or band’s LP. Even though this format seems designed to exist exclusively through web distribution (visual albums can occasionally be too long, interconnected, and narratively or stylistically cohesive to be parsed out as standalone shorts or individuated music videos, but aren’t long enough to be feature films), the visual album is also a risky declaration in the age of iTunes, proclaiming albums to be cohesive works of musical artistry rather than conveniently divisible bits of audio information.

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Modern American design and its history have become major preoccupations within contemporary cosmopolitan circles. Gary Hustwit recently finished his third documentary on the subject, Mad Men makes us nostalgically long for clean copy and clear utility, and the death of Steve Jobs brought forth considerations of the important connections between user-friendliness, sleek aesthetics, and the construction of products around human intuition. Making the case that we have still yet to exhaust what continually proves to be a fascinating and increasingly relevant subject, Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s historical documentary Eames: The Architect and The Painter traverses the fascinating life of a couple whose contributions broadly determined what modern postwar American life looked and felt like. As narrator James Franco romantically points towards the beginning of the film, Charles Eames was an architect who never got his license, and Ray Eames was a painter who rarely painted. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of their influential lives was that they rarely operated within the confinements of either of these titles. They couldn’t be pigeonholed as architects, marketers, filmmakers, etc,. And as such, their work reflected an impending new world of convergence where art, commerce, and visual culture all became deeply related during the second half of the twentieth century. The many lives they influenced can be evidenced by the occupational variety of well-regarded professional people who lend their sound bites to the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Eames including filmmaker Paul Schrader, TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, and architect Kevin Roche.

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It’s not that fonts aren’t interesting. They are. To some people. It’s that director/producer Gary Hustwit managed to make them downright fascinating in his documentary Helvetica. He continued that visual lust with Objectified – which explored manufactured things in a way that made assembly lines seem riveting. Even the assembly lines where literal riveting was taking place. Now, his love of objects grows bigger and more complex with Urbanized, a documentary about the design of whole cities and the flow of human beings though them. The trailer displays the same playful-yet-poignant tone of his other projects, and his resume speaks for itself. There’s no doubt that this will be another interesting entry into filmic exploration of the things that we live with (and in and around and on). Check it out for yourself:

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