Decoding Design

Documentary explores the Eames modern design legacy

Posting in Architecture

A new film draws upon love letters and never-seen-before historical materials to paint a fuller picture of the legendary design duo Charles and Ray Eames.

Chances are, even if you think you aren't that familiar with the work of the late husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames, you are. Their iconic chairs are some of the most recognized and collected furniture of the mid-20th century, and they consulted on design for top U.S. corporations of their day, including IBM, Polaroid, and Westinghouse. Their "Powers of Ten" film has influenced numerous filmmakers--and the look of Google Earth. These examples barely begin to scratch the surface of the Eames' legacy.

A new documentary film, The Architect and the Painter, by filmmakers Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, makes its national debut on PBS stations on December 19 (check local listings for show times). What sets this movie apart from previous explorations of the Eames' life and work is that it features historical interviews and footage of the couple at home and in their studio that have rarely, and in some cases have never, been seen before by the public.

The filmmakers also consulted love letters and other previously unaccessed personal and professional materials to shed fresh light on the Eames' design partnership and vision. It's the first film to be made about the dynamic design duo since their deaths.

Designers who were junior staff members at the legendary Eames Office studio in Venice, California, are also featured, discussing of "one of the greatest success stories of the post-War era" from a first-hand point of view, as the documentary's narrator, James Franco, states in the voice-over.

Here's the trailer:

Critics have been praising the film, which is also screening across the country in theaters. "Well-crafted and insightful," Sura Wood wrote in the Hollywood Reporter. "A must for those with an interest in modern design." And in Variety, Dennis Harvey wrote, "Between the wide array of interviewees and surplus of colorful archival materials, the deftly assembled pic has nary a dull moment."

Even if you can't catch it or DVR it on December 19, the DVD is now available for purchase.

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All images copyright Eames Office, LLC

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure