HOLLYWOOD FEATURES production designers among its professions, but you seldom see movies about designers. In its three-week series of films concerning the theory and process of graphic design, the Little Theatre has programmed a variety of short works by and about some designers who have a striking affinity for motion pictures, while still being worlds apart from commercial cinema.
Alice in wonderland: Elise Lappin in The Architecture of Reassurance.
runs May 31-June 18 at Little Theatre
Foremost among them are the husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames, best known today for their pioneering '40s work in bentwood furniture. (Think expensive minimalist chairs in big empty rooms.) They were also peripatetic and far-ranging thinkers, evangelists for good design, who made 88 short films for corporate, scientific, educational, and just plain whimsical purposes. Shot between 1954 and 1978, the shorts presented here include the famous Powers of Ten (1968), an educational film that zooms up from a Chicago lakeside picnic to the outer reaches of the galaxy, then back down into the microscopic depths of a man's skin. It's an amazing journey, reminiscent of both 2001 and Carl Sagan. Design Q&A suffers from an annoying French-accented questioner, but valuably explains the Eames' credo of design "to accomplish a particular purpose," not as a method of expression, but as "a method of action . . . a recognition of need."
Saul Bass has more renown in film, having designed the famous credit sequences for Anatomy of a Murder, The Man with a Golden Arm, and other Hollywood flicks, and contributed to the editing of Grand Prix and Psycho's shower scene. He and his wife Elaine won an Oscar for the 1968 short Why Man Creates, which briskly and humorously encapsulates the history of human creative endeavor. (You can detect his influence upon the animation of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam, among others.)
The By Design series also includes a May 31 workshop and June 7 presentation of local designers' films. It concludes with works by music video director Mike Mills. His The Architecture of Reassurance (1999) is an eerie, funny study of the cookie-cutter cul de sac suburbs of Southern California, where a teenage girl surveys the dissonance between perfect identical facades and the family melodramas contained within. It's a stilted, freaky, anomie-ridden world, she discovers. "Everyone is, like, so on TV here," she's told by one dissident. It's partly a real documentary, partly like David Lynch, but you don't feel Mills or his protagonist are necessarily mocking latent suburban pathology and homogeneity, just wondering at how they were constructed.