Director: Bill Jersey, Jason Cohn
Writer: Jason Cohn
Starring: Lucia Eames, Eames Dametrios, Paul Schrader
Producers: Bill Jersey, Jason Cohn
Country: USA
Running Time: 83 min
Year: 2011
BBFC Certificate: TBC

The name Eames is synonymous with post war optimism, design and consumerism, and their influence is still felt in homes and offices today, in terms of both style and philosophy. I am writing this from an ‘Eames style lounge chair’. The ethos of fun purported to be prevalent in the offices of global giants Google and Facebook is not dissimilar to that enjoyed in the Eames’ office 50 years earlier.

The latest documentary from experienced director Bill Jersey, Eames: The Architect and the Painter looks at how Charlie and Ray Eames came to be the most successful design partnership in America. It all started when Charles Eames entered and won a competition to design a chair. Despite winning, the design of the chair proved impossible to produce en masse, a lesson which was to inform the Eames’ design philosophy from then on. He moved west to California with his second wife Ray, where their desire to ‘make the best for the most for the least’ led to the design classic of the Eames chair. This enabled them to open offices and attract the best young designers around, and they successfully branched out from furniture. Their oeuvre encompassed such diverse pursuits as architecture, exhibitions and film making for some of the biggest clients around.

The documentary continues the contemporary proclivity to have Hollywood stars record voice-overs, but the choice of James Franco doesn’t distract and moreover it is used relatively sparingly, serving only to expand and elucidate on the talking head interviews. The interviewees consist of former Eames’ employees and contemporaries, design critics and even the writer and film maker Paul Schrader. It is shot and edited quite tradionally (save for a couple of flourishes), and the intent is clearly to inform. That’s not to say that it is not entertaining, engaging and at times humorous (a notable anecdote of a Ray Eames’ dessert served at a dinner party is both unexpected and laugh out loud funny).

It could be argued that this is the kind of documentary that is more suited to television (indeed it was made for US TV and will no doubt end up on more4 or similar in the UK), but it is more entertaining than many feature films released theatrically and whistles by in under 90 minutes. It is definitely worth catching at the cinema whether you are an Eames aficionado, ambivalent about their work, or know nothing at all about them.

Review by Damien Beedham


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