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A Well-Meaning Documentary About A Revolutionary And Inspiring Couple That Never Quite Focuses On Its Subjects
on December 21, 2011
It would be hard to find a subject as inherently fascinating as the partnership of Charles and Ray Eames. Their broad pursuits included work in furniture design, architecture, art, and film (just to name a few major subjects) and they have made long-lasting contributions in each of these arenas. I really looked forward to Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's documentary feature "Eames: The Architect and The Painter" as it is the first film to be made about the pair since their deaths. I feel it is essential for the next generation involved in architecture and design to understand their legacy. A husband and wife team that defied all conventional norms, Charles and Ray had a really inspiring way to combine form with function, beauty with purpose. It was a simple philosophy and the film does an excellent job of showcasing how their personalities really fit into and influenced their design plans. And yet, for all of its successes--I still don't know that the film brings Charles and Ray into much focus.
If you are a student of Charles Eames or have a preexisting knowledge base about the pair and their work, "Eames" may make for a fascinating supplement to their story. However, if you are just being introduced to them, the film might not be the definitive biography you were anticipating. The film begins with the birth of the Eames chair (no real background or context to their early life is provided), discusses Ray's art briefly, touches on their famed residence in Pacific Palisades, and then focuses a lot on the corporate work they did through films and exhibitions. In addition, the film tries to hit the highlights of their lives together and to give you a glimpse into their company in Venice Beach, California. Narrated by James Franco, most of the sources utilized in the film are the Eames family and former employees of the Venice Beach facility. But quite simply, there is too much material to be covered in this 84 minute presentation. And the focus of the film wasn't always on the things I really wanted it to be!
I feel as if I am privy to the working environment of their studio, that I have seen their unorthodox approach to corporate filmmaking, and that they displayed an eclectic and unique visual perspective that represented their personalities in design. All that is terrific! But I wanted to know Ray and Charles in a new and more in-depth fashion. If I was viewing this documentary as my first exposure to their contributions, I don't know that I'd understand what the big deal was. And that's a real shame. Of course, I fully recommend this film to anyone already interested in and knowledgeable about the topic. But I think there is a fascinating biographical portrait about the couple yet to be made. I liked "Eames: The Architect and The Painter." It just tried to incorporate too much material into too little running time to explore anything with the detail that would have made the movie essential. KGHarris, 12/11.