Charles and Ray Eames were two of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th-century, but since they eschewed the term "artist," considering it pompous, let's instead call them creators. As creators, their creative vision wasn't limited to the furniture for which they're perhaps best known for, but it extended to architecture, landscape, sculpture, painting, ceramics, books, toys, exhibitions, graphics, industrial design and film. "Charles and Ray Eames wanted to bring the most magnificent experience that you could have with your eyes to the largest number of people," said art critic Jed Perl. "I don't think there's anything more important for an artist to want to do."
Perl was one of several critics who appeared in Eames: The Architect and the Painter, a documentary narrated by James Franco that just ended its run in New York. It profiled the Eames as a couple, focusing more on "affection than investigation" and providing a nice counterbalance to PBS' "dutifully dull American Masters series," which aired last month.
Since so much of film has recently focused on telling the Eames' story, I thought I'd take a moment and look at the films the Eames themselves made, especially since so little attention was paid to them in the documentary. We get a little mention from Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, a film that was snubbed by the same critics who looked down their noses at the films the Eames were making, but even Schrader isn't all compliments, calling their films a mix of "self-expression and vanity."
The Eames made over one hundred films, yet little is known about them. There's a very logical reason for that. First, they're exceedingly hard to come by; the majority aren't available to the public, though I was happy to see that The Films of Charles and Ray Eames, a 6-disc set with 32 films including "Powers of Ten," is available through Netflix (not Watch Instantly, of course, but I'll take what I can get).
Eames Lounge Chair Assembly is a plucky little stop-motion piece showing a man assemble, disassemble and take a nap in an Eames Lounge Chair in under two minutes.
Powers of Ten, their best-known film, was produced for IBM and is a self-described "film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero." We start at picnic in Chicago and end in the outer reaches of the universe.
But perhaps Schrader was referring to the many films the Eames made about tops; Certainly, there was a limited audience wiling to watch even just seven and a half minutes of tops spinning to Elmer Bernstein, but to me and to many others, they read more like visual poetry.
When Perrin isn't scouting the best new design talent for Core77, or working as the Products Editor of The Architect's Newspaper, or writing for Cool Hunting, Design Applause, Print Magazine, Frieze and The Paris Review, she's trying to put her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College to good use.