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Movie Review - Helvetica (2007 United States)

Updated on February 10, 2012

The really interesting part of this documentary is the loving care with which it was shot. The story of a typeface becomes a frame around a lyrical and bemused look at the modern world as we see how universal (and, therefore, rather creepy) the use of this font has become. After you watch Helvetica, you'll never see stop signs and street signs and ubiquitous urban signage of all sorts quite the same way again.

As someone who works as a graphic designer, I find the tyranny of Helvetica and its near-twin on the PC side, Arial, to be both infuriating and explicable. Both fonts are clear, crisp and about as easy to read as anything humans have yet designed (this review is set in either Helvetica or Arial, by the way, depending on if you are reading it on a Mac or a PC). And yet, they are also both remarkably characterless and therefore intrinsically boring.

What do you think? Watch this documentary right now:

Watch the trailer for Helvetica:

It goes back to that easy-to-read issue, of course: the more “character” a font has, the more likely it is to be impenetrably hard to read. So that’s the core question this documentary asks . . . ummm, along with, “How crazy does someone have to be to be passionate about a font?” Because there are people interviewed in this movie who are, without question, passionate about it, either for, or against. This provides the subversive undercurrent of satire in the film, the nagging question about the sanity of not only caring, but even noticing a font.

Unless you are in the business of designing text, you no doubt never have noticed one before. If you watch Helvetica, however, you will never again not notice.

Recommended with the disclaimer that its entertainment value is subtle and its satire very dry.

Copyright Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

Genre: Documentary, Musical & Performing Arts, Special Interest

Rated: Unrated

Running Time: 1 hr. 20 min.

In Theaters: May 8, 2007

On DVD: Nov 20, 2007

Directed By: Gary Hustwit


Michael Bierut - Himself

Neville Brody - Himself

Dimitri Bruni - Himself

David Carson - Himself

Matthew Carter - Himself

Wim Crouwel - Himself

Tobias Frere-Jones - Himself

Otmar Hoefer - Himself

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

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    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Do you have a favorite documentary to recommend?