Messages in the shadows: Framestore presents a twisting, turning title sequence for SS-GB, a major adaptation of Len Deighton’s 1978 alternate history novel, premiering on BBC One on Sunday 19th February.
The series is a complex thriller set in an SS-occupied London, in the early 1940s. Framestore’s William Bartlett worked alongside production company Sid Gentle Films and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to direct and craft the series’ title sequence, drawing on his own significant experience with the medium to stylishly reference the many motives and allegiances at play in the show’s narrative.
It is indeed an appealing title sequence — read more about its making on chaosgroup.com. For typophiles, there is one surprising flaw, though: It has to do with the simplified gotisch, or schaftstiefelgrotesk, that is shown as ominous Teutonic ghost image underneath the primary text layer in Futura caps. Of course blackletter is not meant to be used in all caps, but that’s the smaller issue here.
More importantly, one shouldn’t rely on untested free fonts. The font in use is the freebie Deutsch-Gotisch. In all of the family’s four styles, the letters ‘X’ and ‘Y’ were mistakenly swapped. Oops! Sam Riley is hence introduced as “SAM RILEX”, Maeve Dermody got changed to “MAEVE DERMODX”, and Jason Flemyng’s surname is spelled “FLEMXNG”. The blackletter shadows apparently play a purely illustrative role, and are not meant to be read, or proofread.
Deutsch-Gotisch is even more simplistic than other simplified gotischs like National or Tannenberg (the latter is used for the book cover of Harper’s 2009 edition of SS-GB), and some of its glyphs like ‘D’ or ‘g’ are downright clumsy. The font’s origin is not entirely clear. Virtually all of Dieter Steffmann’s freebies are based on historic sources. Sometimes credits are included, but not in this case. I don’t know of a metal typeface that could have served as a model here. Chances are Deutsch-Gotisch is instead derived from a lettering model (something like the exercise sheets by Hiero Rhode for Heintze & Blanckertz, but less well executed). That would also explain the unharmonized letterforms, e.g. the long “feet” on ‘A’ or ‘M’ which tend to cause spacing issues.
Oh dear. I understand it’s not just people who don’t speak German who make these mistakes, either.
(Incidentally, someone I know with a PhD in German history – not a native speaker, but very fluent – says he can barely read blackletter-type handwriting either. I think he used to ask a friend in the office for help with the difficult bits.)
It’s true, decorated blackletter caps can sometimes only be deciphered in context, and the cursive connected Kurrent indeed is on a whole different level. Here’s a question from last year’s quiz at the Berlin Typostammtisch. From the more than 50 participants, the majority of them German native speakers, hardly anyone was able to correctly transcribe the line of Kurrent caps.
Contributed by Stephen Coles
Contributed by Phil Baines