Movies where type/graphic design is a plot element.

aluminum's picture

I watched the Ninth Gate last night from Netflix. IMHO, a rather unremarkable film that I normally would have just shut off if not for the fact that it all centered around antique books. Type didn't play a huge part, but got me thinking about what other semi-mainstream movies might use graphic design and/or type centric plot elements. Any come to mind?

Any romances set in a print shop? Any murder mysterious surrounding a sign factory? The Scarlet Letter?

AndrewSipe's picture

Stranger Than Fiction has some very interesting graphic elements to help illustrate the written words.

pattyfab's picture

Prospero's Books? I haven't seen it in a while.

k.l.'s picture

American Psycho. (The business card scene.)

Si_Daniels's picture

Shop Girl - the bloke (who isn't Steve Martin) is a failed type designer.

Domino – Chris Walken’s character rants about design apparently

I’ve not seen either movie.

Ignacio's picture

Truffaut loved books. In the "Mississippi Mermaid" there is a scene of the printing process of a tobaco package with the face of Catherine Deneuve, and if I remember well, in "The Man Who Loved Women" there is one or two scenes about books and printing.

I also remember a cool scene in an antique book store with Bogart in The Big Sleep.

Di Caprio is arrested in a french press in "Catch Me If You Can".

Si_Daniels's picture

Here's some...
The Printer's Devil from, 1923 -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0014375/

The Font of Courage, 1917 -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0953400/

The Mafia Type, 2004 -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0459451/

The Wrong Type, 1994 -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0402593/

Times, 2002 -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0308985/

etc., etc.,

david h's picture

There're a lot of them.

-- The New Age - Judy Davis is a graphic designer.

Type/typefaces (movies & tv) see the documentary: Hollywood at Last

Stephen Coles's picture

It's a small part, but there's a great scene in The Lives of Others, in which a Stasi expert describes to an investigator the letterforms of the typewriter model used by a dissident writer.

Stephen Coles's picture

> Shop Girl - the bloke (who isn’t Steve Martin) is a failed type designer.

Not exactly. He just says he's working on a font. It's more of a funny little line than an actual intended profession.

Miss Tiffany's picture

American Psycho with Christian Bale. There are a few great scenes where the yuppie lawyers compare typefaces and paper stock, they also mention letterpress.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I should add that the initial meeting where the cards are shown and compared gets Christian Bale's character mad enough to kill the guy who supposedly has a nicer card.

Nick Shinn's picture

Dustin Hoffman played an art director in Kramer vs. Kramer.
His marriage was ruined staying up all night working on ad layouts.

sihep's picture

The main female character in De Niro/Pacino film “Heat” is a graphic designer with a copy of Fuse on her desk in one scene.

As mentioned above Patrick Bateman being upstaged by someone else’s business card is the classic one: “Oh my God, it even has a watermark!”

delve's picture

There's that obscure film that recently came out. I doubt anyone on here has seen it. It's called "Helvetica".
:)

canderson's picture


It's not a movie, but I've always liked the Twilight Zone episode "Printer's Devil." Burgess Meredith plays an expert Lin-o-type operator who turns out to be Satan.

pattyfab's picture

Any film involving a ransom note.

david h's picture

> Any film involving a ransom note.

The Clearing, for example.

russellm's picture

There was a German film I saw a few years ago on TV... I think it dated from the'80s.

A famous graphic designer - head of a big firm is always wrapped up in his work. Eats sleeps and drinks design.

Design design design.

His wife is bored.

She has an affair and runs off with a hip young artist.
Uber cool young artist.

The husband responds by taking the young atist (who reminds him of himself) under his wing and turning him into an uber successful, famous designer - With whom his wife quickly becomes bored and she returns home.

The young artist's life is destroyed by success. What a terrible revenge.

I don't remember the name of the film though

Choz Cunningham's picture

There’s that obscure film that recently came out. I doubt anyone on here has seen it. It’s called “Helvetica”.
:)

Here, you need this: .~

(Sorry, I just had to.)

aluminum's picture

Whoa...my NetFlix queue is now 3 years long! Some good recommendations in here!

ChuckGroth's picture

here's a horrible film (based on a wonderful play), but the demi moore character was a graphic designer, if i remember correctly:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090583/

and again at:
www.fast-rewind.com/alnight.htm

Knight's picture

I always loved the opening title credits for Dr. Strangelove.
As for the type being a plot element, I thought that the recreation of Times Square was well done from the recent King Kong.

On a side note: I always loved the map in Goonies, even though it is not well done, but I thought it was still cool.

-Joe

AndrewSipe's picture

The "Out-of-Towners" starring Steve Martin as an Ad Executive who has an interview in New York. His hilarious hijinx throughout the movie become the concept for his interview presentation.
In "Catwoman" Haley Barry's character is a Graphic Designer during the day.

Also, if you goto www.imdb.com and search for Graphic Designer or Web Designer under plots, there's like 4 or 5 movies that come up with characters who play such roles.

Recently, I watched a show on the Sci-Fi Channel called "Mind-Control with Derren Brown" who manipulates people with subliminal messages. Here's a video of him tricking two employees of the Saatchi and Saatchi ad agency that they'll pitch him an idea he has already written down.
Sci Fi Pulse

typofoto's picture

In the 1991 Scorcese remake of Cape Fear, Jessica Lange's character is a graphic designer. She has a conversation with her daughter, played by Juliette Lewis, about how to draw a logo for a travel agency. Later on, the villain Max Cady (Robert De Niro) taunts her about her "pesky little sketches". Not quite a crucial plot point, but not a bad reference either.

AndrewSipe's picture

I did a quick search on imdb with typographer under plot and got this response:

"Cronache di poveri amanti (1954)" : In 1925 the young florentine typographer Mario moves to via del Corno to be near his girl-friend Bianca.

pattyfab's picture

"Cronache di poveri amanti" means "Chronicle of the poor lovers". Poor because they are star-crossed or poor because he can't make a living at typography?

AndrewSipe's picture

Couldn't tell you, the rest of the plot goes like this: ...Here he becomes friends with Maciste, his landlord, and Ugo, anti-fascists both of them. When Campolmi is beaten by the fascists, Mario meets Milena, Campolmi's wife, at the hospital and falls in love with her leaving Bianca. Then Maciste is killed, again by the fascists, Ugo is wounded and he seeks shelter in ^ÓSignora^Ô's house. Here he falls in love with Gesuina and the two marry. Campolmi dies, but Mario and Milena part themselves. Later Mario too is arrested by the police.

No mention of how much typography this guy does, or even if he keeps doing it after moving to del Corno. The movie sounds like a political romance, like "The American President".

Ray Larabie's picture

The Science of Sleep (2006) has a gratuitous paste up scene.

eliason's picture

Not a movie (and perhaps not a plot element), but...

Are any of you watching the excellent new series "Mad Men," on AMC? It's set in a 1960 ad agency in NYC. One of the episodes showed the executives bemusedly tossing back and forth the Doyle Dane Bernbach Volkswagen "Lemon" print ad.

Lex Kominek's picture

Although not specifically about type or graphic design, Crazy People starring Dudley Moore comes to mind.

- Lex

aluminum's picture

"Are any of you watching the excellent new series “Mad Men,” on AMC?"

I watched the pilot. I enjoyed the vibe of the era, and the cute jokes that reference the future ("there is no imaginary machine that can make perfect copies of paper reports"). But I'm not sure if they can drag an entire series along with that. Has the series remained watchable?

david h's picture

> Has the series remained watchable?

Why not. This is top 10 production!

Berg's picture

Pillow Book, by Peter Greenaway

aluminum's picture

"Why not. This is top 10 production!"

;o)

The issue I had was that I wasn't sure there was a plot. OK, ad men. Suits. Booze. Machismo. Plot?

Thomas Phinney's picture

BTW, "The Ninth Gate" is based on (about half of) the book "The Club Dumas." I recommend the book much more highly, though I quite enjoyed the film. The radically different endings between the two are an interesting discussion item for those who've experienced both.

Also, note that the all-important book everyone's dying over in "The Ninth Gate" is a thinly-fictionalized version of the actual book "Hypnerotamachia Poliphili" (erotic dreams of Poliphilus), printed by Aldus in 1499. It's a stunning book, with cool typography and imagery. Another fictional unravelling of the secrets of this same book, but under its real name, is also the inspiration for the best-selling thriller "The Rule of Four," which is also being made into a film.

Oddly, the Wikipedia pages on "The Ninth Gate" and "The Club Dumas" don't even mention the Hypnerotomachia.

Dang, must get back to work. :)

Cheers,

T

fontplayer's picture

Burgess Meredith plays an expert Lin-o-type operator who turns out to be Satan.

That would explain how he eventually became the head of the company.

Queneau's picture

I don't know exactly if this is what you meant, but I had to think about the movie 'pi', which is based around all kinds of spooky meanings and theories of the mathematical sign 'pi'.

cheers Queneau

Miss Tiffany's picture

_Pi_ had a great soundtrack.

ChuckGroth's picture

Burgess Meredith plays an expert Lin-o-type operator who turns out to be Satan.

That would explain how he eventually became the head of the company.

even Satan had to work his way up!

fontplayer's picture

> even Satan had to work his way up!

And wouldn't you know his minions would be lawyers.
; )

terryw's picture

Burgess?
New thread anyone?
The devil made me do it.

dezcom's picture

"even Satan had to work his way up!"

He had to work his way out of the Hellbox :-)

ChrisL

fontplayer's picture

He had to work his way out of the Hellbox

Wasn't Hell appropriately in Linotype's name at one time? Or did I dream that? (is that what this reference is to?)

ChuckGroth's picture

fp- the hellbox is where typesetter's would toss discarded lead characters

russellm's picture

I remember going to an exhibition of printing equipment way back when...

The was the Linotype booth, the Hiebleburg booth, and way, way off in the distancer was this huge sign that said "HELL"

It's now Linotype-Hell, I believe.

dan_reynolds's picture

Linotype–Hell AG was in existence from c. 1989 to 1997. Linotype AG acquired Dr.-Ing. Rudolf Hell GmbH in 1989, and then changed its company name. Heidelberg acquired Linotype–Hell AG around 1997, at which point Linotype Library GmbH was formed (Heidelberg AG sold Linotype in 2006). The "Library" was dropped from Linotype's name in 2005, and the company is now known simply as Linotype GmbH.

"Hell" was a great company. Its founder (Dr.-Ing. Rudolf Hell) invented both the fax machine and the scanner. They also created the world's first digital typesetting machine, the DigiSet, in 1968 I believe. Many designers, including Hermann Zaps and Gerard Unger, worked for Hell for a time. Note that they were both freelancers or external employees, as far as I know. This is important, because of the differentiation it creates—while they may have worked for Hell, they did not work in Hell. Hell's offices, of course, were located in Kiel, a port city in Northern Germany.

Some may be sad to hear that "Hell" no longer exists ;-)

fontplayer's picture

Some may be sad to hear that “Hell” no longer exists ;-)

LOL. It does appear to be a kinder and friendlier company these days.

nicholasgross's picture

I'm sorry but IMHO the Ninth Gate is awful and rates among my worst films of all time; there was no ending and at times I felt like I was watching a Range rover ad. I couldn't believe Roman Polanski and Johnny Depp had produced this. Sorry if I missed something.

Si_Daniels's picture

> Hell’s offices, of course, were located in Kiel, a port city in Northern Germany.

Is it true that a few winters back Hell froze over? I think it was a few months before Monotype purchased Linotype? ;-)

nicholasgross's picture

A similar if less sophisticated device of the type used by Stranger than fiction was used in Fight club; As Ed Norton's character walks around the aparment, everything progressively appears and is labelled and priced so it looks like an IKEA catalogue . And you can't mention type in films and David Fincher without talking about the awesome opening titles in Se7en featuring the feverish obsessive scratchings of Kevin Spacey's Psychopathic serial-killer.

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