Anton Corbijn's first documentary is a fine assemblage of great anecdotes.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Anton Corbijn may be well-known as a director, but he is one of the super-giants in his field when it concerns photography. He has been world famous for decades already for his portrait stills, often shot in grainy black and white, and especially musicians and popstars have been immortalized by him, captured in a glance, photographs which are often at the same time brutally honest yet hauntingly beautiful. As such, it should not be a surprise that as a subject for his first documentary film, Squaring the Circle - The Story of Hipgnosis, the Dutch director chose a legendary design studio known for iconic sleeve art. What may be surprising is how enjoyable and generally light-hearted the end result is.

VL2023-SquaringtheCircle-ext1.jpgAs Noel Galagher states in the documentary: nowadays, sleeve art is the tiny icon you click in your Apple playlist or Spotify. But in the sixties and seventies, albums were released on giant discs of vinyl, and to protect those you needed a big cardboard sleeve, large enough to make the artwork on it pop out. Popular bands were almost in a sort of arms race for who could get the most eye-catching or controversial art on their album sleeves, and several albums are iconic in this respect to this day.

A large amount of the most famous images from that time were created by two crazy hippies who met each other in Cambridge: Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey "Po" Powell. In the sixties they happened to become friends with a bunch of other Cambridge hippies who later became Pink Floyd, and when the two started to design Pink Floyd's first album sleeve, it became the start of an art design studio which rocked the world: Hipgnosis.

Hipgnosis became the go-to place for crazy designs and ideas, combining photography, drawings, a wicked sense of humor and a no-holds-barred, no-budget-too-crazy attitude towards art. Travel to the Sahara desert to shoot a row of inflatable red balls for a cover shot? No problem. And the results were often stunning. Hipgnosis' work for Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney & Wings, Peter Gabriel and (indeed) Pink Floyd is instantly recognizable.

Anton Corbijn knows most those people in a friendly professional way, and while he allows Po to tell most of the story (Storm died in 2013), Corbijn apparently had no trouble to get several super-famous artists to chime in as well. With more than forty years of hindsight, tempers have mellowed a bit and everyone has funny anecdotes.

Squaring the Circle is set up chronologically as a typical rise-and-fall story, with famous albums forming the chapters. Animation shows the actual squaring of each circular disc into its iconic sleeve art, followed by the often famous stories surrounding it. Corbijn makes a collage of his own beloved stark black-and-white footage, but archival materials he leaves in color, and the sleeve artwork is shown at its best in eye-popping, colorful detail.

It all makes for a very pleasant trip, a one-hundred-minute journey through an age past, and with the people involved, you can rest assured that the soundtrack is epic. I liked it very much and the film comes highly recommended.

But don't just take my word for it: at the Film by the Sea Festival in Vlissingen, it became an audience favorite, scoring a whopping high rating of 4.6 out of 5.


Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)

  • Anton Corbijn
  • Trish D Chetty
  • Paul McCartney
  • David Gilmour
  • Robert Plant
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Anton CorbijnTrish D ChettyPaul McCartneyDavid GilmourRobert PlantDocumentary

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