Sunday, September 23, 2018

Eames: The Architect & The Painter (2011)

As a child, I became fascinated with a short film called Powers of Ten.  It started in Chicago and zoomed out to show 10^24th meters.  The trip then reversed, going down to show a single proton in a man’s hand at 10^-16th meters.  (The full title was Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero.)  I began watching some of their other shorts, many of which are available through YouTube or The Eames Office.  I had wanted to know more about the people behind the film, mostly because they aren’t known by most people as directors.  Whenever I tell people who made my favorite short, they always ask, “The ones who did the chair?”

Enter Eames: The Architect and the Painter.  Charles and Ray Eames were a husband-and-wife team known for making chairs.  He was trained as an architect and she started out painting.  Thus, Charles Eames was good with form and Ray Eames was known for adding color.  The first part of the documentary deals with the furniture, however there were other aspects to their career.  They did design a house, usually referred to as the Eames House.  (It’s also known as Case Study House No. 8.)  The documentary also covers films that they did for various clients, including Powers of Ten.

From the documentary, it would seem that they were very dedicated to their work.  One example is given of Charles Eames eating the cost of project overruns.  He was also the kind of person that would seal a deal with a handshake.  Ray Eames seemed to stay more in the background.  I’m not sure if that was a product of the era, wherein women weren’t necessarily at the forefront.  It didn’t seem to sit well with her, but it doesn’t seem like there was much she could do about it.

It’s pointed out that Charles and Ray Eames were often assumed to be brothers.  It was a mistake I made when I first heard the names.  (She was born Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser.)  I think someone of my age is going to look at something like that differently.  I grew up after the sexual revolution, so it’s a little more alien to me to see a woman not step up to take credit for something.  (I’ve occasionally asked my mother how accurate Mad Men was in depicting the office dynamic.)

I was able to get the documentary on DVD from Netflix.  My parents now have the disc and plan to watch it soon.  It would be interesting to talk about the documentary with someone, as I don’t really have much of a concept of the couple outside of their short films.  I was also born in 1976, so much of what they produced came out before I was born.  This puts a slightly different spin on how I saw the documentary.  Much of it is history to me.

I would think most art students would probably be aware of this documentary.  It’s worth watching for anyone.  Given how much they produced, I think most people won’t be aware of it all.  I could see a lot of people being surprised.  I can see a lot of people knowing them either for the furniture or the movies, but not both.  Even if you were aware of a particular film, you might not know that the Eameses were behind it.  If you have Netflix, put this in your queue.

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