Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Reverential Biopic Chronicles Career of Legendary Designers
Who would have ever predicted that Charles Eames (1907-1978), an architecture school dropout, and Ray Kaiser (1912-1988), an abstract artist who rarely painted, would join forces to spearhead a movement in modern design back in the Forties? But that is precisely what transpired after they married in 1941 and moved to Venice, California, where they opened an office and began creating a new style of furniture blending art and industry.
As Charles put it, “We wanted to make the best for the most for the least.” And based upon that utopian dream of providing high-quality, low-cost goods for all, they proceeded to mass-produce a variety of items, starting with their popular, plywood lounge chair. Over the years, the Eames’ empire would expand to include everything from photography and films to toys and games to houses and interiors.
A real Renaissance man and woman, they tackled projects as far afield as a splint for wounded soldiers, a solar-powered, do-nothing machine for Alcoa, and the IBM pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Yet, each new invention was still somehow stamped with the iconoclastic couple’s trademark, courtesy of their wild, whimsical approach to design.
Narrated by James Franco, Eames: The Architect & The Painter chronicles not only Charles and Ray’s storybook career, but also offers an intimate peek into their private life as well. Via a mix of archival footage and interviews with friends and colleagues, it is easy to discern that their affable public personas masked a deep desire for the privacy they routinely retreated to together. A funny sequence in the film features a disappointed dinner guest recalling having once been served an arrangement of inedible flowers instead of dessert by his eccentric hosts.
We also learn that, despite Ray’s letting Charles take all of the credit for their accomplishments as was generally expected of women in pre-feminist times, the legendary pair contributed an equal amount of brain power to the enterprise. In terms of accusations leveled by critics that they were too commercial, the Eames never saw themselves as selling out to big business, but rather as using corporations as a means of making beauty and taste available to the average person.
Another factoid worth highlighting is how Charles hated contracts, preferring to seal a deal with a handshake. Plus, the eclectic documentary is stocked with a number of catchy Eames aphorisms like, “Never delegate understanding!” And “Eventually everything connects!”
Congrats to co-directors Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey for fashioning a fascinating biopic as offbeat, engaging and readily-accessible as their endlessly-inventive subjects.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: First Run Features
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Film Review by Kam Williams