If you think today of a legendary slightly egotistical designer who sought perfection and whose work influenced entire industries, you’d probably think of Steve Jobs. This would be wrong because Steve Jobs wasn’t a designer, however keen his eye was for the craft. Charles and Ray Eames essentially crafted the look of the 1950s and 1960s, an era popularized by TV’s Mad Men, through ingenious design. But first, they started with chairs.
This documentary keeps light on its feet as it bounces from Charles’ initial divorce and subsequent marriage to Ray (yes, a woman) who were kindred spirits in their enthusiasm for art, to their eventual iconic studio where hundreds of designers spent their craft working under the Eames name. In the early 1940s, the couple worked on chairs made out of molded plywood, but because of supply shortages during World War 2, applied their craft to building splints for injured soldiers. That money allowed them to build their first chair designs which were formulated based on precise measurements and extreme comfort with minimal materials. Over the years, their chair designs would become ubiquitous, you see them today in cafeterias in stackable form or in benches at airports.
While Charles ran the show, it was wife Ray that had the eye for color and composition. But they didn’t stick with chairs, they branched out to eventually include films for the American World Expo in the former USSR, and other clever animated sequences and educational shorts that kids watched in school. Their influence is felt in so many places that I never even realized until I saw this film, which is narrated by a dreary James Franco. I mentioned that the documentary keeps light on its feet, afraid to get bogged down like similar design documentaries like Helvetica and Objectified, and keeps you entertained throughout, although I was kind of pining for more of a personal side to the story as it depicts the couple as a mostly working duo. Your mileage will vary, but those with a heart for design would be wrong to miss this.