Saturday, March 10, 2012

i wasn't the only one to notice

mark simonson on the fonts in "the artist" movie:

The Artist won this year’s Oscar for Best Picture about a week ago. It seems to say something about the state of movies today that a black and white, silent picture—not even wide screen—wins the big prize. I’ve seen it, and it’s good, but I confess that I had to force myself to ignore most of the type in it in order to enjoy it.

The Artist mimics the look and feel of a late 1920s silent film. The sets, the costumes, the makeup, the lighting, the camera work, the acting—even the way it’s written—makes you almost believe you are watching a classic of the silent era. Of course, you know it’s not. After all, there are recognizable modern actors in it, like John Goodman and James Cromwell. And, for me, there was the type.

Most of the fonts they used looked more or less right for the 1920s, although quite a few were badly made free fonts (or badly made commercial fonts—those exist, too). Others are not quite from the era or were applied in an anachronistic way—for example, using negative line spacing, which is impractical to do with metal type.

But the real problem was that they used type at all. Except for things like newspapers, a few other small props, and the intertitles (more on these later), type would not have been used. Movie posters, signs, magazine covers, movie titles and credits—back in the 1920s and 1930s, that kind of thing was almost always lettered by hand. Type—and it would have been metal type, back then—was not up to the job. There were too few styles, too few sizes. It just wasn’t as flexible as someone skilled with a brush. Things that are so easy for us to do with type today were practically impossible back then, which provided plenty of work for letterers.

If you’re careful, it is possible to get close to the look of lettering with modern fonts. Some are even made to look that way (I’ve made a few myself). But for all the attention they paid to other period details, there is something slap-dash about the way this stuff was handled in The Artist...

(many examples follow, some of which i didn't even catch when i watched the movie)

...In conclusion, the typography in The Artist wasn’t way off the mark—it does seem that some effort was made. And I’m sure that, for 99.999 percent of the movie-going public, it was more than sufficient effort. But it would have been great to see the typography get the same high degree of attention that the other period details in the film got.

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