GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
May 11th, 2010

Rating: 2.5/5

Director: Wendy Keys

We've all seen it, we may even have a t-shirt of it-- the famous I HEART NY design. But for those of us outside of the art world, we may not know where the design comes from, and more importantly, the designer behind it. The documentary MILTON GLASER: TO INFORM AND DELIGHT tells the story of the incredibly talented and influential graphic designer and artist, Milton Glaser. Glaser is the designer behind behind such campaigns as the Bob Dylan album cover, the DC Bullet logo and also the famous I HEART NY logo for New York City. Yet the documentary is not without its flaws, which almost overshadow the great story of a great designer.

Without knowing much about his work, MILTON GLASER gives such an in-depth and personal look into the artist, I almost felt as if I personally knew him by the end of it. Director Wendy Keys is on top of displaying not only his most famous pieces of work, but also some of his lesser-known magazine designs, all while Glaser himself presents retrospective views on his life and work. She of course covers his famous NY campaign, but moves forward, making it evident that although the artist appreciates what he did for the city by creating the logo (small fact: he also has not made any money off of it), but he is not defined by it. But as much as I enjoyed learning about Glaser there are some fairly large issues I had with the film.

With documentaries, there is a limit to how far you can go with presenting the information. Although some documentarians like to take liberty with the artistic expression of the story they're telling, there's a line between being respectful to the real subject and then just trying to create a fictional narrative. So with that, I understand the limitations of documentary filmmaking; and MILTON GLASER is by no means groundbreaking with its filmography. It follows the standard of documentaries: present the subject, discuss the subject, go into the past of the subject, then back to the present and see how they effected their world/were effected by their world. And although there's nothing necessarily wrong with following that formula, the way it was presented was distracting and quite dry.

For such a rich and vibrant subject as Milton Glaser and his art, the documentary is at times stale and almost dull. I felt like there were so many directions it could have taken when displaying his work, but instead, it came off like a middle school power point project. For the most part, his art is presented against a bland, unaesthetically pleasing backgrounds in full frame; this could have been an attempt in letting the art speak for itself, but it did not give the audience much room to connect with the careful details that Milton places in his work, and the moments where the detail is actually shown are few and far between. Something you don't necessarily want to see in a documentary about an artist who is quite meticulous about detail in his work.

Furthermore, I didn't care for the editing cuts and style of narration. The film would quickly jump from Milton speaking in his office to the same conversation with a different person or in a new location. These odd cuts and jumps in location were distracting, and I almost feel as if Keys was so intent on following the flow of Milton's art and style, that she wanted everything down to the editing cuts to be influenced by his loose creativity. But instead of coming off as organic, it's sloppy and forced. Now, I understand that sometimes conversations happen and occur in different scenarios, but to make a more fluid film she could have easily cut the audio of these dialogues and really go into detail about the specific work of art Milton was discussing, instead of briefly showing it on for a five-second clip against a background, and then quickly jumping to a new scene, while instead of hearing what Glaser has to say, they're too busy trying to catch up with the change in direction. But, towards the middle of the film these cuts settle down and it becomes the intimate conversation I think she wanted to achieve. But I digress.

Aside from these inherent issues Milton Glaser is a really interesting, vibrant subject and his creative work really does outshine  the flaws of the film, and gives the film its saving grace. It's apparent how much he loves design, his students, and most of all, New York City. And the documentary does well to display the scope of his influence which ranged from grocery store designs, children's books with his wife, and even changing the face of prescription drug design. He states that he wants his designs to be as clearly communicative as possible, a statement that is so respectable for a time where people are okay with getting crap ads up on the internet.

Based solely on the film's presentation, I don't think MILTON GLASER will help pique the interest of those who aren't fascinated by art or design, but to those of you readers who appreciate learning about new styles of art and the inspiration behind, then this is a film to check out, because Milton Glaser is truly a delight.

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