Though he is arguably the best known graphic designer in America, and despite the fact that he is legendary for his poster design (think Dylan, think Mahalia Jackson, think Angels in America), Milton Glaser has designed remarkably few movie posters. Paul Mazursky’s Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976) is a rare exception, but a fitting one since Glaser is so indelibly associated with New York, having designed the I HEART NEW YORK logo that helped jump-start the revitalization of the city in the ’70s, not to mention having co-founded New York magazine and created the identities of Grand Union supermarkets and Brooklyn beer among many others.)
With only a perfunctory knowledge of Glaser's work, which I had previously dismissed as cartoony and kitsch, I had never considered myself a fan, but Wendy Keys’ admiring and intimate new documentary Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight (which opened in New York last week) gave me a new appreciation for the man and his work. A true mensch, committed to social causes and left-wing politics (he does pro-bono work for The Nation and recently designed a campaign to increase awareness of the genocide in Darfur), Glaser's work, that of both a humorist and a humanist, is bold, witty, evocative and always memorable. When he and Seymour Chwast founded Push Pin Studios early in his career, he declared their love of ornament, humor and narrative to be “everything the modernists told us to hate.” And in the film he refers to his work as “anti-Swiss.” But though his Next Stop Greenwich Village poster is very much of its era, compared to Birney Lettick’s Rockwell-esque design for the same film (see below), Glaser's is the picture of elegant simplicity.