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Review: Eames: The Architect and the Painter

August 1, 2012

ArtsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Ray and Charles Eames’ contribution to 20th Century Design cannot be overstated. This husband and wife team, a painter and a sculptor/architect, combined their creativity and talents to become pioneers of modernism in America and beyond; through an astoundingly productive and ambitious career that spanned from 1941 to 1978. Their professional and personal life has been captured in a highly informative, yet equally entertaining, documentary by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey. Narrated by James Franco, this documentary takes you on a journey through Ray and Charles Eames’ career, really capturing the playfulness, intellectual curiosity and profound productivity of a couple who more than deserve their iconic status.

Most recognisable for their mid-century modern furniture – still highly popular amongst consumers today – this exploration of Ray and Charles Eames’ career also inevitably showcases significant changes in American culture, to which they made an incredible contribution.  The film includes a fascinating account of the rise in modernism, the development of functional yet creative design for the masses and even the development of the computer age throughout the 20th Century. Interlacing often touching and insightful dialogue from those closest to the couple, with archival photographs, television footage and clips from Eames’ films this documentary provides a fully rounded and straight-forward account of the duo’s fascinating life and work.

You really don’t have to have an interest in design and art (although obviously that’s no bad thing) to enjoy this documentary and appreciate the legacy and influence this couple have had on modern culture. Together Ray and Charles Eames shaped design and this has been artfully presented in a documentary that really captures the playfulness and creativity that they encompassed. Fascinating from beginning until end, this film delves into and explores their relationship and their contribution to American society – most strikingly in the discussion around their Cold War propaganda movie ‘Glimpse’ (1959). It also acknowledges the gender politics of the mid-20th century which lead to the fore-fronting of the husband, Charles, who overshadowed his equally talented and contributory wife and asserts how Ray, after all, was an equal creative force.

A particularly amusing moment in the film, that highlights this film’s light-hearted and honest approach, is when the couple’s friend describes his dismay at being served a ‘visual dessert of flowers’. Being very hungry he explains how he was less than impressed by this creative approach to a sweet course that was much anticipated on his part (he was hungry!) This creative gesture seems to sum up the couple’s playful approach to life, which evolved into their work. For Ray and Charles Eames, life and work were the same – they lived their ideas and those ideas were constant and evolving. The film works to showcase how uncompromising and unique this couple’s work practice was and how they were catalysts for a creative team both within their infamous Eames’ workshop and beyond.

A thoughtful documentary that has such depth and detail that it successfully reveals the many dimensions that made up this exceptional couple by looking at their individual talent and the creativity that stemmed from their union: capturing both those new to their designs and existing fans alike. In this film no stone has been left unturned and it is hard to imagine any person who doesn’t feel inspired and moved having seen this insightful piece of film-making.

Kerry Flint.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter trailer