Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Eames: The Architect and The Painter is the first feature documentary from writer/director Jason Cohn, a veteran of PBS television documentaries. The subjects of the documentary are the eponymous Eames: the wife-and-husband team of Charles and Ray. They became two of the most iconic and celebrated designers of the post-World War II years.
The glaring problem about the documentary is that it has an almost propagandist line running through it. The talking heads used are well chosen, they have a selection of designers that worked in the Eames office and a number of good specialists on design. The issue is that none of them speak critically about the couple, all that is said, or at least included in the documentary, is a series of sickly fawning praise about what geniuses they were. Even the section in which the former designers discuss the fact that they were never given credit for any of their designs seems to excuse and apologise for why it was okay that Charles and Ray never allowed any other designer to take credit. At one point one of the designers actually says: “I was happy being exploited by a proper master.” It ends up sounding like a strange sadomasochistic relationship.
The music is an annoying morass of upbeat and playful orchestral movements and the “whimsical” nature was obviously chosen to play up to the bohemian nature of Charles and Ray and to fit in with joyous nature of the documentary. The difficulty is that the music is abysmal. It’s twee. It’s annoying. It’s invasive. The score serves to make the film seem even more lightweight than it already is. The same goes for James Franco’s narration. It sounds as if someone woke him up in the middle of the night to narrate. We all know that Franco is a good actor, so it’s even more jarring to hear his deadpan narration over some of the most annoyingly upbeat music ever committed to film.
The use of graphics looks like something a new wannabe YouTube broadcaster would use. The most embarrassing of which is the visual representation of bids being made at an auction. Figures appear next to bidders heads just to make sure that the viewer understands that people are willing to pay lots of money for the work of the Eames office.
One thing that Eames: The Architect and the Painter has going for it is that the subject matter is interesting. From the Eames’s first big break being a revolutionary splint that was used in World War II to the explicit sexism that was encountered by Ray Eames. The processes they used to design the chairs and even the way the public consumed their work was quite fascinating. However this acts to exacerbate the rest of the flaws in the documentary.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter would have been infinitely improved if it had been constructed of nothing but contemporaneous footage and audio in the same way as the magnificent Senna. This documentary smacks of someone who has tried to make a documentary by the numbers, therefore nothing new is attempted here. One hopes that Jason Cohn watches some Herzog, Broomfield, Lanzmann and Marker before attempting another documentary. The subject matter is really quite compelling which makes it worth watching if you are interested in design but Eames: The Architect and the Painter holds little import for those interested in the medium of documentary film-making.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter is available on DVD now.
Watch the trailer for Eames: The Architect and the Painter here