Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Gary Hustwit | 2009 | 75 mins | USA

In a piece he wrote for Frieze Magazine, director Gary Hustwit says of his previous film, Helvetica, that while design aficionados have known the subjects of his latest film for decades, the average viewer has never heard of these marvelous characters, whose passion became his secret weapon. ‘Where did you find these people?’, non-designers ask [him]. ‘They’re so passionate!’ Unfortunately, passionate though they were, the design megastars interviewed in Objectified don't quite measure up to their Helvetica counterparts.

It is indeed fascinating to realise that just about everything we come into contact with in our lives is designed by someone, and there are a tonne of big names here to talk about how they shape our world. There's Apple's Jonathan Ive (who admits he's a bit obsessive in his passion for putting together our computers and iphones), the legendary and compelling Dieter Rams of Braun (pictured above), several folks from IDEO (one of whom is credited with designing the very first laptop ever, a very neat gizmo indeed), Chris Bangle (the former chief designer of BMW) and several others. Notably hilarious is Rob Walker, who writes the "Consumed" column for the New York Times Sunday mag.

Considering the who's-who of design that this film is packed with, it's actually surprising that there aren't more "holy shit, he designed THAT THING" revelatory moments about the universally iconic items these people have had a hand in creating. It's as though the film gets lost in discussing design in the abstract (and even the usefulness and meaning of designed objects in the abstract) without linking it to the actual things we really use, know and love. The interviews about Apple's design sense come closest to bringing it back down to earth, but it's not quite enough.

The film looks good (as any film about design should) and Hustwit is clearly a skilled interviewer, but Objectified lacks the magic that made Helvetica such a standout in 2007.


Shelagh said...

Definitely agree with you. While I enjoyed it, it had much less of the magic of discovery of Helvetica. I wanted to know more about the objects and less about the designers. Bit too much hero worship. But interesting enough. http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk/blog/hot-docs-film-festival-part-iii/

aaron said...

I think Art and Copy is the superior companion piece to Helvetica at Hot Docs this year.

sspeier said...

I agree with your review completely. Too much design-celebrity wankery and not enough history. Briefly, in one of the interviews they touch upon Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line, but that was about it as far as it goes in terms of industrial design history. I didn't want a super boring timeline of the subject, but some context was definitely missing. Where was the industrial revolution? Where was overseas manufacturing? Where was supply and demand theory?

Too much claptrap about Jonathon Ive and how he is basically the narcissistic design parallel of Paris Hilton, and not enough the designers' upbringing and backstory.

Huge disappointment for me after loving Helvetica so much.