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America Lost and Found, The BBS Story

F Ron Miller’s typography embodies film’s heady days between 1968 and 1972.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on May 17th, 2011. Artwork published in 2011.

Earlier this year, The Criterion Collection released “America Lost and Found, The BBS Story”, a box set of seven classic American films from the late 1960s to early ’70s. The set, and each film, got a new design from F Ron Miller. While not exactly a history lesson, the DVD covers, menus, and book successfully evoke the feeling of the era, mixing typefaces that were designed — or in heavy use — during those years. Miller’s personal experience informed the choices:

Sometimes the task was to elicit the era by choosing specific typefaces from the time, other times it was about choosing type (and type styling) of the time. I lived through the 1970s so, at the very least, my subjective associations come first hand.

“The BBS Story” slipcase cover. Click to enlarge.

The letters for the cover were cobbled together from available photography. Miller says the marquee was ideal for the content:

There’s a lot of type on this cover and virtually all of it needed equal prominence. The marquee hit the right metaphoric note and it provided an organic solution to the problem of all those words.

Using actual marquee letters gives this cover much more authenticity than using a font, but finding or shooting usable images is not an easy task. Those with a similar brief and less time or budget could try to emulate the look with fonts like Marquee, Double D, or Now Playing. Typefaces with simple, constructed forms like Interstate, Gotham could do the job in a pinch. I also see a very DIN-ish ‘S’ among these letters.

“Easy Rider” is set in what could be considered a mascot of 1970s photocompositor type: ITC Pioneer No. 2. It manages to combine both the masculinity and the counterculture spirit of the film. I’ve always wondered about this peculiar typeface. Where did these odd shapes come from? Was there a Pioneer No. 1? I sent a list of questions to the co-designer, lettering legend Tom Carnase. I’ll update this post if and when I get a reply.

DVD menu screen for “Easy Rider” using ITC Pioneer and Compacta.

The extra bold, high contrast Didoni sets the tone for “A Safe Place”, a fantasy-laced film by idiosyncratic director Henry Jaglom. The typeface is supported by Optima and Compacta in the unconventional but appropriate design of the DVD’s on-screen menus (see below). Read more about Didoni and its kind in our piece on Established & Sons.




DVD menu screens and section of the box set book for “A Safe Place”.

In his sharp lambasting of “Bad fonts” Matthew Butterick advises lawyers not to use Bookman “unless you want your brief to look like it was printed dur­ing the Ford administration”, astutely adding, “If fonts were cloth­ing, this would be the corduroy suit.” Sorry, Times fans, but I put Cheltenham in the same category. It just feels dated and frumpy. But it’s the perfect face for “Five Easy Pieces” a 1970 film that stars a working class, sideburn sporting, corduroy coated Jack Nicholson. The ITC version is especially appropriate and is deftly handled by Miller, complete with the tight-but-not-touching spacing of the day. The hash marked five, constructed with musical staffs, is a nice touch.


1 Comment on “America Lost and Found, The BBS Story

  1. Matthew Butterick says:
    May 19th, 2011  12:46 pm
    Edit

    I won't comment on standard-width Cheltenham. But the condensed version (as exemplified by David Berlow's version, Cheltenham FB) is still hard to beat when you want a super-condensed, classic-looking serif headline face. Type designers of the world: I invite you to come up with something better.

    New York Magazine temporarily revived Bookman in their April 11, 2011 issue — swash caps and all. As always, they make it work. But one issue was enough. (You can download the issue with their iPad app.)

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