Excellent Documentary Marred By Typographic Anachronisms

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, Oops! | Yves Peters | September 23, 2013

The best way to tick off a graphic designer cum typography blogger? Intercut the historical footage from 1963 in the BBC documentary Martin Luther King and the March on Washington with images of fake vintage banners printed in vinyl with friggin’ Arial (released in 1982). Last night I was thoroughly enjoying the documentary until the sight of that godawful rip-off neo-grotesque specifically designed to compete with Helvetica – with its limpy leg on the R and half-arsed G – completely yanked me out of my viewing experience. I understand the need for poetic slow motion images of a banner waving in the wind, but couldn’t they at least try to fake it a little more convincingly? Can you believe I actually felt cheated and only half believed the remainder of the documentary? I urge the United Nations to issue a stern warning and vote a resolution for mandatory typographic consultants in film and television productions, preferably the slightly brilliant and always affable Mark Simonson. Shame on you, BBC, shame on you!


Genuine banner attached to a 1963 Greyhound bus, lovingly lettered with black sharpie.


The fakest fakery in the fake history of fakeness, printed in vinyl with Arial.

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4 Comments:

  1. I know what you mean. The very first episode of Mad Men that I saw featured an advert in Zapfino for Chrissakes! Put me right off, I was getting into it, and that completely ruined it for me.

    Posted by Nick Cooke on Sep. 23, 2013
  2. Silly mistakes in typography are one thing — a much more important problem with documentaries like this one is the combination of authentic material with re-enacted scenes. Even more confusing are documentaries that use contemporary re-enactments and even fiction (eg scenes from movies, contemporary as well as from a later date). Or ‘real’ material that has been colorized with a soundtrack added.
    It takes a sharp eye and a certain feel for history to tell everything apart. And I predict that in a few decades no one will be able to discern what is real and what is ‘fake’. Our grandchildren could be complaining that moving images from the Napoleonic Wars are not in 3d…

    I would like to see mandatory symbols added to scenes that show us what kind of material is used. (Brussels, wake up!)

    My pet peeve… Sorry for that.

    Anyway, I saw the program a couple of weeks ago and what bothered me even more than the silly type was the tilt-shift-effects in these segments, that apparently were meant to obscure the lack of extra’s and period features in the background.

    Posted by Bert Vanderveen on Sep. 23, 2013
  3. I completely agree, Bert. My post was only a little bit of fun; your point is far more poignant. Just like they have disclaimers in ads where toys are animated, the same should apply to documentaries with some sort of universal icons identifying footage that is “for entertainment purposes only”.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 24, 2013
  4. I’m wondering about the lettering on the rosette, “First Prize Fat Pig Competition”, in the first episode of the BBC’s Blandings. It’s not quite Benguiat …

    Posted by Anton Sherwood on Apr. 2, 2014

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