Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Design Is One

The joyously symbiotic First Couple of modern design is featured in this sprightly, informative doc which may very well change the way city folk see everything around them.

Oct 11, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1386808-Design_One_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

You may never have heard of them, but Massimo and Lella Vignelli are an almost daily influence in modern lives, especially if you live in New York. The logos for American Airlines, Bloomingdale's, Saks 5th Avenue and Ford, as well as 375 different national park brochures, many of the chairs we sit in and dinnerware we use, restaurants we visit and, most essentially, the subway map all spring from their feverishly creative minds as two of the foremost commercial designers of our time. Interiors, graphics, corporate brandings and products are their bailiwick, with their motto always being "If you can't find it, design it" and the instantly expressive Helvetica their preferred typeface.

Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra's documentary Design Is One is a cheerful, inspiringly upbeat exploration of the duo’s dauntingly chic yet somehow warmly welcoming world, and the innumerable other worlds they have created. A charismatic, highly attractive elderly pair, they have been an "it" couple for decades, from the 1960s, when Massimo sported the very first Nehru jackets his intimates now agree he parted with only reluctantly. They are credited with first bringing real Italian style—devoid of tacky pizza associations—to this country in the 1960s. An impressive array of professional constituents like Richard Meier, Milton Glaser and Steven Heller weigh in with their somewhat awestruck, universally laudatory opinions of the couple. She is described as a bulldog by some observers for her strong personality and tenacity, while he is like a bounding puppy brimming with outrageous ideas, who has never taken a day off in his entire life, as his work is without a doubt also his fun.

Lella is celebrated here for her underappreciated architecturally trained strengths, while Massimo comes across as more the whimsical artist, whether with his concepts for chairs like "the handkerchief" (still proudly in production, as is so much of their output) or delivering a glass on deadline which was modeled after the dome of a cathedral he could see from his office. It was he, everyone agrees, who introduced the concept of the grid into modern design, something which continues to pervade everything he does.

The couple is famous for never arguing with a client—although the happy bickering between them over the course of their 50-year marriage and partnership is incessant. This, plus their undeniable talent, is what accounts for the supreme standing they have long enjoyed in their rabidly competitive field.

Computerization changed things drastically for the pair. Where once they presided over an exquisitely accoutered office that was, according to many, like “a chapel of design," they are now able to work out of the house with a drastically reduced staff. The cut-and-paste, hands-on approach is largely gone forever, but the glory of their work remains evident in what they are still producing today, as well as in timeless projects like Massimo's personal favorite, St. Peter's Church in Manhattan, fondly known as the "jazz church" for the performances and musician memorials given there, which is like an ingeniously assembled wooden puzzle of brilliant minimalism.


Film Review: Design Is One

The joyously symbiotic First Couple of modern design is featured in this sprightly, informative doc which may very well change the way city folk see everything around them.

Oct 11, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1386808-Design_One_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

You may never have heard of them, but Massimo and Lella Vignelli are an almost daily influence in modern lives, especially if you live in New York. The logos for American Airlines, Bloomingdale's, Saks 5th Avenue and Ford, as well as 375 different national park brochures, many of the chairs we sit in and dinnerware we use, restaurants we visit and, most essentially, the subway map all spring from their feverishly creative minds as two of the foremost commercial designers of our time. Interiors, graphics, corporate brandings and products are their bailiwick, with their motto always being "If you can't find it, design it" and the instantly expressive Helvetica their preferred typeface.

Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra's documentary Design Is One is a cheerful, inspiringly upbeat exploration of the duo’s dauntingly chic yet somehow warmly welcoming world, and the innumerable other worlds they have created. A charismatic, highly attractive elderly pair, they have been an "it" couple for decades, from the 1960s, when Massimo sported the very first Nehru jackets his intimates now agree he parted with only reluctantly. They are credited with first bringing real Italian style—devoid of tacky pizza associations—to this country in the 1960s. An impressive array of professional constituents like Richard Meier, Milton Glaser and Steven Heller weigh in with their somewhat awestruck, universally laudatory opinions of the couple. She is described as a bulldog by some observers for her strong personality and tenacity, while he is like a bounding puppy brimming with outrageous ideas, who has never taken a day off in his entire life, as his work is without a doubt also his fun.

Lella is celebrated here for her underappreciated architecturally trained strengths, while Massimo comes across as more the whimsical artist, whether with his concepts for chairs like "the handkerchief" (still proudly in production, as is so much of their output) or delivering a glass on deadline which was modeled after the dome of a cathedral he could see from his office. It was he, everyone agrees, who introduced the concept of the grid into modern design, something which continues to pervade everything he does.

The couple is famous for never arguing with a client—although the happy bickering between them over the course of their 50-year marriage and partnership is incessant. This, plus their undeniable talent, is what accounts for the supreme standing they have long enjoyed in their rabidly competitive field.

Computerization changed things drastically for the pair. Where once they presided over an exquisitely accoutered office that was, according to many, like “a chapel of design," they are now able to work out of the house with a drastically reduced staff. The cut-and-paste, hands-on approach is largely gone forever, but the glory of their work remains evident in what they are still producing today, as well as in timeless projects like Massimo's personal favorite, St. Peter's Church in Manhattan, fondly known as the "jazz church" for the performances and musician memorials given there, which is like an ingeniously assembled wooden puzzle of brilliant minimalism.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Film Review: Magical Universe

Your interest in and tolerance of this film will largely depend on how much you can see Barbie the Doll as Barbie the Muse. More »

Film Review: All You Need Is Love

The emptily generic title gives it away: This doc is undeniably well-intentioned but basically clueless. More »

Film Review: The  ABCs of Death 2

Twenty-six short horror films by 26 different directors equals 26 ways to be disappointed. More »

Film Review: Point and Shoot

Failing to substantially plumb the larger nonfiction questions it raises, this fascinating if flawed documentary recounts the story of an American who chose to fight in the 2011 Libyan revolution. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

John Wick
Film Review: John Wick

Retired hit man seeks revenge on Russian mob in an above-average action film. More »

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here