"Designers Charles and Ray Eames, respective subjects of the documentary Eames: The Architect and the Painter, and largely credited with bringing modernism into the American living room with their now ubiquitous contoured chairs, may have also helped to comfortably contextualize the philosophy of European modernists within our own post-war progressivism," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Charles's mantra ('The best for the most for least'), echoes of which are audible in the ostensible aesthetic egalitarianism of IKEA's retail theory, saw the potential for mass production within the rigid, deceptively simplified form and primary color-fetishism of the era's visual artists. Furthermore, the couple's playfully inter-disciplinary, media-obsessed, auto-didactic approach to design — neither were trained in anything in particular, though Ray studied under Hans Hofmann — suggested that a modern man, or woman, could push on by remaining in awe of contemporary advances in science and technology while holding fast to the traditional grievances of an emotionally and physically cluttered personal life."
Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "He is recalled as charismatic (especially with the ladies), handsome, and sometimes unwilling to share credit; she is remembered as the deferential but equal collaborator occasionally referred to as 'Crazy Ray-zy' for her extreme pack-rat habits. A clip from The Arlene Francis Show in the 1950s shows Ray good-naturedly enduring the TV hostess's repeated insult, 'She is the woman behind the man' — a stoicism that would serve her 20 years later, when Charles almost left her for a much younger woman. 'I think their marriage was a mystery to everyone,' an Eames worker notes — an observation true of every couple that you'll wish the filmmakers had explored more deeply."
At Cinespect, Daniel James Scott notes that "Charles once said of his wife, 'Anything I can do she can do better.' As the two became iconic presences in America, the bounds of their creativity expanded. Their house in the Pacific Palisades (Case Study House No. 8) became a hallmark of 20th century modernist architecture. The films they made for the techno-giant IBM" — including, of course, Powers of Ten (1977) — "first enamored the public to the idea of the computer. Their traveling exhibition The World of Franklin and Jefferson foreshadowed the interconnected nature of the internet."
For the New York Times' AO Scott, "the most gratifying thing about Eames is that it shows, in marvelous detail, how their work was an extension of themselves and how their distinct personalities melded into a unique and protean force. The film is also appropriately busy and abundant: full of objects, information, stories and people, organized with hectic elegance." The doc serves "both the fact-gathering imperatives of biography and also the need, especially important with subjects like these, to convey a sense of the beauty and meaning of what they did."
"James Franco provides perfunctory voiceover while protégés enthuse and reminisce," writes Eric Hynes for Time Out New York, "but it's the archival footage that wows here, showing that before the brand took on yuppie cachet, the Eames team made exquisite objects for the masses."
More from Drew Taylor (Playlist) and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times). Earlier: Ray Pride (Newcity Film). At New York's IFC Center; see the site for more dates and times.
Update, 11/23: "This overlong film suffers from a superabundance of Eames Office employees," writes Martin Filler in a long piece for the New York Review of Books in which he'll also point you to a few current exhibitions of interest on view in Los Angeles at the moment. "They are not only redundant — in a funny quick-cut sequence, one after another calls him 'charismatic' — but most also seem concussed, as if they had been hostages rather than willing participants in the joyous group enterprise they recall but hardly embody…. Thus, although this informative film claims that the subjects' impact on modern visual culture has become so pervasive as to be ubiquitous, one also can see why the Eames Office died with them. This was a personality cult, pure and simple. We may be grateful for the manifold life-enhancing contributions of Charles and Ray Eames without reservation, but this suffocating documentary makes one grateful not to have been present at the creation."
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