slow and low

I’ve forgotten everything! But then again, maybe there wasn’t anything much to remember. The last week has been filled with the process of moving and the days before that are kind of a blank… But I do have some memories… They are coming back as slowly as the webpage’s load, since Earthlink deemed it necessary to shut my DSL off for 10 days to move me three apartments down the hall… Sigh. Back to dial-up again. Not that I really mind the speed of dial-up, but knowing that any day now I’ll be back to DSL makes dial-up feel like I’m on AOL 2.0 Mac again… Sigh.

HelveticaRegardless, I have managed to watch a couple of films. We watched one that we’d been looking forward to for quite sometime. Helvetica. A documentary about the font… Somewhat. Though it does cover the history of Helvetica, it really seems to be focused on the effect that Helvetica has has on graphic design. How a typeface came to be seen as so ideally perfect yet ideally blank, so that words formed with it seemed to take on their own meanings without you even noticing what type they were written in. Of this they give many examples and by the time it is finished you start to think that every corporate logo is made out of the same letters, but letters so perfect for their purpose that you would never have imagined that all those familiar words were written the same way… This film relies heavily on interviews with graphic designers, young and old, people who are very interested in typeface and who both deign and use them professionally. While some of these people feel that the success of Helvetica is something like the ultimate achievement for a typeface, some of them think just the opposite and this film also gives good coverage to the other side. Those who dislike the face, both for it’s pedestrian ubiquity, and also for it’s lack of character. The opposition between these two camps is quite engaging, as is the obsessive focus that designers on both sides have towards typefaces, aesthetics and creativity. I found the film to actually be rather inspiring. It is a pleasant relief to listen to people who really are obsessed with their work, and with the effect that their work has on others. The thought of these people whose occupations aren’t jobs so much as they are a life’s work and an intellectual and philosophical obsession is rather uplifting, especially when you usually hear so much whining from so many folks about their sad, boring lots in life.

Into Great SilenceWe also watched, or should I say, tried to watch Into Great Silence. A documentary about the Carthusian Monks and their great monastery of Grande Chartreuse. I felt the need to watch this because, ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by hermits and monkishness in general. The whole notion of living a cloistered life seems rather appealing to me, and it still retains it’s charm after watching this, though they were much more cloistered then I ever would have anticipated. The movie? Well… It has it’s pluses and minus. It is impressive that the filmmaker was not only allowed inside the monastery, but allowed to live there for 6 months and film. And it is a well-shot movie, very beautiful and idyllic. The film is very peaceful and very (um, very very) quiet. The overwhelming majority of the film (which at 2 hours and 45 minutes is maybe an hour longer than I really could take) is quiet… No music, no talking, the occasional bell tolling and some chanting. I imagine that the goal was not only to show the monastery and the monks, but also to give some small notion of what it is like to live in such hermitude. Most of the footage is of what might as well be still-life’s of the surroundings and the interiors, and also scenes of them reading, chanting, sawing wood and going about their monk duties. The little dialogue that does exist, I didn’t really need to hear and is some cases I would have rather not have, as I tend to think highly of monks and hearing statements like (and I paraphrase here) “If one does not live for god, then I see no reason to live here on earth”, seems so ignorant that it was a bit off-putting. But then again, maybe if you spent your entire adult life cut off from everything in the world and humanity except for: the monastery grounds, some monks, quiet chanting and lord knows how many hours to read the bible over and over and reflect on it, with no real awareness of the world and nothing to distract you or to experience… then maybe it is hard to imagine what else one could do with their life. Anyway, I digress. The monastery is a beautiful place: grand in scale, stark, utilitarian and furnished with wonderful old fashioned craft. The setting is a beautiful spot in the French alps and this order has a history that goes back some 1000 years. Though I don’t get the feeling that the consume much of the liquor that they are so famous for.

But in all honesty, about halfway through the movie we both started reading as we watched. I couldn’t help it as I was burning through a engrossing little memoir called The Film Club written by a fellow who gave his tenth grade son permission to drop out of high school (and not work or anything) as long as he would watch three movies a week, of his father’s choosing, with his father. It’s not the greatest memoir, and it’s not as much about film as I had hoped, but it is an interesting notion. Though the boy didn’t really take to gleaning as much as one might hope from the “education”.

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