Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jason Cohn & Bill Jersey's EAMES: the Architect and the Painter opens in NY & LA

On any "word association" test, the name Eames would -- were it not simply to draw a blank stare -- be likely followed by the word "chair." The history of the famous Eames chair, one or another example of which we've all sat on (in the home, airport, auditorium, doctor's office) is one of the many surprising and often fascinating things we learn about Charles (husband) and Ray (wife) Eames, both the subjects of a fertile new documentary by filmmakers Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey entitled EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER.

Charles (above, right) was the architect, Ray (above, left) the painter, and both did extraordinary work. As one of several interesting people interviewed in the film explains, had that work concentrated in a single field rather than being spread over everything from furniture design to animated film to World's Fair exhibitions, the Eameses would probably long ago have been placed in the pantheon of art & design.

Though most of the activity the film observes took place a mere half-century ago, so much has changed over the ensuing decades that the documentary becomes, in addition to its other virtues, a kind of time-travel back to a day when a contract -- even one with a very large and important corporation such as IBM -- could be secured, as we see in the film, via a handshake. (In the photo above, which dates to 1948, the two are posing for a photo shoot on a Velocette motorcycle.)

Charles and Ray Eames are no longer household names (Ray never was), yet the two, as a couple and as individuals, are brought to remarkably full life by Cohn and Jersey (the filmmakers are shown below, with Cohn on the left).

We learn of Charles' earlier marriage and why it ended, about the wonderful collaboration between Charles and Ray, the development of that famous chair (and where Eero Saarinen fit into this), the many amazing and enduring projects the couple produced, the odd house they built (interior below, exterior further below) in Pacific Palisades, California -- and even something of their quirky personalities.

Charles, the charismatic one (the filmmakers have some good, ironic fun with this overused adjec-tive) reflects rather well, I think, the period of 1950s-60s America when men still appeared to rule completely. You'll think of Mad Men, and with good reason, while watching this particu-lar documentary.

Ray's activities (she was a pack rat extraordinaire) are explored, too, as are Charles' affairs -- one in particular, with a younger co-worker. Interestingly, the filmmakers allow this person to act as one of the film's interviewees well into things, before suddenly dropping this little bomb on us. Yet what we learn about this affair and how it played out speaks well for everyone concerned.

Early in their career the Eameses had a goal of providing themselves (and perhaps the world) with a seamless environment, as well as a seamless life. That this does not happen should come as no surprise to anyone who's lived very long. Yet within the couple's interesting story, not to mention their one-of-a-kind studio and workplace, can be found a lot of fun and humor. (One anecdote about a dinner at which the couple served flowers for dessert should have you laughing out loud.)

By the end of this alter-nately joyous and thought-ful film, you'll have developed a genuine appreciation for Charles and Ray and especially -- as I think they would have preferred -- for their work. The docu-mentary ends with a "keeper" of a statement about the debt we owe the Eameses, and how we should handle that debt.

Eames: the Architect and the Painter opens this Friday, November 18, in New York City (at the IFC Center) and Los Angeles (at the Laemmle Music Hall 3). It has already hit a number of other cities, festivals and theaters across the country, and there are even more to come. Click here to view them all.

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