Design Fixation: {Typeface Tuesday} Font Misuse in Historical Films

3/16/10

{Typeface Tuesday} Font Misuse in Historical Films

I ran across an interesting article about the accuracy of font usage in historical films, and I started doing a little research... turns out people have a lot to say about this subject. Mark Simonson Studio wrote a fascinating article called Typecasting: The Use (and Misuse) of Period Typography in Movies. Almost Famous, That Thing You Do and Pleasantville among others were rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars; movies received 5 stars if they represented a near perfect use of period typography.

 A still from That Thing You Do, which received 5 stars.

A still from Pleasantville, which also received 5 stars.

Here's one from Ed Wood, which only received 3 stars.

Click here to read the rest of this fascinating article. And here, Lorraine Wild discusses a typographical error in Good Night, And Good Luck.

"For starters, the picture accompanying the piece — a still from Good Night, and Good Luck, is a visual oxymoron: clearly, whoever was responsible for putting that Helvetica behind George Clooney either (A) ignored the fact that CBS had a perfectly adequate logo back in the Edward R. Murrow era (a logo that would have been pretty easy to locate and lift for the film) — or worse, (B) said person, convinced that certain things like Helvetica are timeless, decided that this did not oblige the poster to adhere to principles of historical accuracy."

Douglas Copeland in the New York Times, says:

"I think the most common set-decorating error in films these days can be reduced to one word: Helvetica. I’ll be watching a World War I drama, and there at a train station in the background is a sign saying ”Ypres” in 200-point Helvetica Bold. Movie over — at least for me. Once I see Helvetica in any pre-1957 movie, all I can think is that the art director was so clueless he either used Helvetica in a historical drama, or hired someone stupid enough to do so, and never double-checked the work."

Alice Rawsthorne feels the same way, in this New York Times article:

"Choosing an inappropriate typeface is one problem. Applying one inaccurately is another. Sadly for type nuts, movies often offend on both counts. Take “Titanic,” in which the numbers on the dials of the ship’s pressure gauges use Helvetica, a font designed in 1957, some 45 years after the real Titanic sank. Helvetica was also miscast in Good Night and Good Luck, which takes place in the early 1950s. “I still find it bizarre to see type or lettering that is wrong by years in a period movie in which the architecture, furniture and costumes are impeccable, and where somebody would have been fired if they were not,” said Matthew Carter, the typography designer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

I must admit that in the past I haven't scrutinized the use of typography in historical movies, but maybe I'll start taking a closer look. My Netflix queue is about to get a lot longer.

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