Monday, 13 August 2012

200words: eames - the architect and the painter

"...He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love..." Song of Songs 3v10

Biographical documentaries are a funny species and this is a charming and diverting example, even while it is concerned to recount to the converted a familiar history of their heroes. In sum, Eames is an enjoyable pictureshow which struggles to get deeper than selling a certain brand of niche cinema selling chairs by a couple who made a living selling the cinematic to sell a brand to sell chairs. Self-consciously the film quotes the “quotable” soundbites and plays the “playful” self-portraits of the couple from their branding, apparently unironically. More troubling to observe is that when a canonised divinised brand such as Eames meets so weak a warts-and-all exposé, it serves neither to tarnish nor even to humanise the enterprise but rather to glamorise warts. Weak not simply because the fawning talking heads struggle to muster criticism of their idols, but by entertaining causality in the correlation between the enduring quality of the designs of the Eames studio and the chemistry of Charles and Ray's romance the interviewees bind the work's success to the marriage, while the narrative tension in the film is achieved by considering their marital dysfunction, a dysfunction centred on the personality cult surrounding Charles' successful work. Can we ask if we would have the Eames recliner today without his serial infidelity and the misogynous asymmetry in design credit?


To venture beyond 200words, if only to use the pun ends justify Eames, I would be interested to discuss the utilitarianism and the relationship between the anti-hero and form in contemporary design – perhaps then to deconstruct the 'best for the most for the least'. I would draw a parallel perhaps with Revolutionary Road, the book of the era which the Eames helped to furnish: plugging an identity crisis with commodities, and using marital bliss as the marketing trope to push it, is the tragedy of that age and ours. Of marital fidelty, genius and modernity, could we question the difference between Charles Eames and Yates' Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, or indeed Hazanavicius' George Valentin in The Artist, or Marsh's Philippe Petit in Man on Wire, Fincher's Mark Zuckerberg in Social Network? Who do we admire, and what do we forgive in a genius? What is a permissible sacrifice to achieve art, progress, political protest?

To venture yet further beyond 200 words, I really want to glory in some of the movingly beautiful bits of the film. All of this business was done on a handshake: Design is commissioned by human individual persons, the magic is lost in the departure to impersonality. Hosting meals together played a crucial role in design process, and the meals are fixed deep as memories in the stories of those who experienced them: Design is hosting as a meal. Trips to the circus to savour its details photographically as a uniting and analogous group experience, perhaps my favourite imaginative entrance into the world of the Eames studio: Design is seeing the world and its details and its textures and its mechanisms differently, together.

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