Victoria Film Festival
Feb 7 – Capital 6 – 7:15pm
by Ed Sum
“The Visual Language of Herbert Matter” is an excellent documentary that will kickstart the Victoria Film Festival's Cinemaswiss
block of movies. This special category will spotlight the best in what the avant-garde has contributed to in graphic design and the arts. With this specific film, it is a brief education of the Modernist movement, an exploration of the emerging styles of art in the 30's, and an exposition of how Herbert Matter developed his trademark style.
His posters are iconic because they were not the atypical product that was commonly found for the time. Even in his home country of Switzerland, he possessed a special kind of magic that captured the powerful serenity of the Alps, the sharpness of an edge and contrasts of the colour image. This film wastes no time in simply talking about him; it spotlights his best works and explains some of the processes that went behind how these products came to be.
This documentary is a very intellectual one. It provides some ideas in what the artists of the time were thinking of and it even gives a tip for people considering a career in design. The poster has to catch the eye in a split-second, otherwise it gets lost. No further explanation is really required after that and the movie does not limit itself to just focusing in on Herbert. It also explains the sociological climate and political milieu that he grew up in. Certain aspects of it would influence some of his works. Perhaps his most famous is the "One of them Had Polio" poster. It would garner awards that would earn him worldwide recognition.
Although no one film can serve to chronicle every detail of Matter`s life, this movie does a great job at being intimate with the artist. It explains how he met his wife Mercedes and how she became his muse. It also talks about the visionaries Matter closely worked with, like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
Director Reto Caduff also puts his own personal stamp by narrating the movie. He explains his experiences in context to what Matter may have felt when he arrived at the cultural meccas of both Paris and later, New York. His work in the States is what affirmed his status as one of the true pioneers. With interviews from two generations of his family, acolytes and historians, the man is revealed to be what he is: a luminary of the modernist style who continues to shape the life of many artisans.