Devil in the Details?

I began to post this article by Jon Ronson from Saturday’s Guardian as a nod to my Desktop Publishing and Design class, because of this wonderful exchange about Stanley Kubrick’s fascination with sans serif fonts, especially Futura Extra Bold:

It is not a remarkable note except for one thing. The typeface Tony used to print it is exactly the same typeface Kubrick used for the posters and title sequences of Eyes Wide Shut and 2001. “It’s Futura Extra Bold,” explains Tony. “It was Stanley’s favourite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant.”

Is this the kind of thing you and Kubrick used to discuss?” I ask.

God, yes,” says Tony. “Sometimes late into the night. I was always trying to persuade him to turn away from them. But he was wedded to his sans serifs.”

It’s a fascinating article, though—a brief glimpse into the life of a reclusive man who is one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. The theme I found interesting was Kubrick’s obsessive attention to detail:

But this attention to detail becomes so amazingly evident and seemingly all-consuming in the later boxes, I begin to wonder whether it was worth it. In one portable cabin, for example, there are hundreds and hundreds of boxes related to Eyes Wide Shut, marked EWS — Portman Square, EWS — Kensington & Chelsea, etc, etc. I choose the one marked EWS — Islington because that’s where I live. Inside are hundreds of photographs of doorways.

All this, Ronson points out, for a shot that lasted a few seconds in the movie, and was ultimately shot on a set, anyway. He also marvels at a room full of nothing but books and research about Napoleon, all for a film that was never made. When Ronson questions Kubrick’s brother-in-law about it, pointing out that if he hadn’t been so obsessive, he might have made more films, he gets this reply: “That’s like saying had Vermeer painted in a different manner, he’d have done 100 more paintings.…Why don’t you just accept that this was how he worked?”

He was the greatest director of his generation. Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny!” Lolita’s heart-shaped sunglasses. The Dr Strangelove cowboy riding the nuclear bomb like it’s a bucking bronco. And on and on. So many images have implanted themselves into the public consciousness, surely because of the director’s ever-burgeoning attention to detail.

Pretty cool to think about—how much the process of creation affects the final work. Sure, one doorway might be just as good as another doorway (and probably is, in most cases), but how much more is percolating through an artist’s head as they search for that perfect doorway?