Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eames: The Architect and the Painter

With some unexpected free time on Friday night, I stopped by the Balboa to see Eames: The Architect and the Painter. I considered stopping by the Roxie to see the Midnite for Maniacs tribute to Greydon Clark but recall the last time I tried to see Midnite for Maniacs at the Roxie, it was sold out. The prospect of the Roxie being packed or even my not being to get a ticket was enough to send me home on a Friday night. Restless after a few hours, I looked online and saw Eames playing at the Roxie and recalled a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the film.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter; directed by Jason Cohn & Bill Jersey; narrated by James Franco; documentary; (2011)

Going into the film, I wasn't sure if I had ever seen an Eames product or at least, knew it was an Eames when I saw it. As the film progressed, I realized I had seen many Eames designs. Charles and Ray Eames (husband and wife, not brothers), were influential furniture designers but as their fame grew, they branched out into films and exhibits for museums and world fairs. Although Charles and Ray were interesting people, their works are the true focus of the film.

Let's start with the Eames chair. Not a single design or model, Eames had a long and fruitful business relationship with Herman Miller which is the only chair company I can name off the top of my head. At work, I sit on perhaps the most famous chair design ever made - the Aeron by Herman Miller. The Aeron is not an Eames design but it was Eames' earlier collaborations with Herman Miller which established it as the most prominent chair manufacturer.

What about the Eames chairs? Well, I can't name them like the Aeron but recall seeing them ubiquitously in the 1970s and 80s. The following are Eames chairs which I recall distinctly from my youth. I still see the swivel chair in use but the molded plastic/plywood chair with armrests seems very 1970s to me now. The third chair, the wood finished one without armrests has a classic look but definitely feels like a Mad Men era piece.

The most memorable Eames work was a film. Eames and IBM had a long relationship where Eames produced short films advertising IBM. Many of the films were conceptual rather than selling a specific product. The Powers of Ten (1977) is perhaps the most famous film that resulted from the Eames/IBM partnership.

Unexpectedly and enjoyably, Eames (whose name I was unfamiliar with) was a nostalgic trip to my youth when these designs and films were all around me. At the time, I wasn't impressed but in hindsight, their works were special and memorable. Memory is a strange thing. You don't think about something as simple as a chair for many years. You see a photo and you recall these chairs from your school or a friend's house or when your father took you into his workplace. Charles and particularly, Ray Eames had interesting lives which shouldn't be overlooked but it's hard not to when their work is so iconic.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter, will be telecast on PBS on December 19 under their American Masters series.

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