Review: 'Eames: The Architect and the Painter'

 

Although Eames: The Architect and the Painter played on TV in December as part of PBS’ American Masters series, you’re better off seeing it in a theater. This film deserves to be watched with minimal distractions so you can concentrate on the shapes, colors and imagery. It screens 7 p.m. Thursday at the Toby at the IMA; admission is $3 for members and $5 for the general public.

Charles and Ray Eames made it their life’s work to extol the complex beauty of everyday objects, from the modern-day, mass-produced chair to films that explained the computer or math. Their goal: get the best design to the most people for the least amount of money.

Here, we get the full scope of their work, starting with the famous Eames chair, which Charles and architect/designer Eero Saarinen began working on in 1940. Although they initially failed to figure out how to curve plywood, they ultimately came up with the right process by making splints for soldiers wounded in World War II. Mass production began in 1946, and Charles became an icon of modernism. Time magazine called the Eames chair the greatest design of the 20th century.

The film shows us the inside of their ever-changing design studio in Venice Beach, Calif., and their house, gives us insight into their film work done on behalf of large corporations and the U.S. government, and documents how important Ray was to her husband’s work and to the abstract art movement in America. It also delves into thorny issues such as credit — which Charles received even when others did the bulk of the work — and the problems with their marriage.

Through film clips (Charles died in 1978, Ray in 1988) and interviews with colleagues, we get a well-rounded portrait of their work and their lives. But as fascinating as their story is, it’s the paintings and moss hanging from the ceilings and the shapes of their designs that make the film. Charles and Ray Eames encouraged others to look at the world differently, and they succeeded.

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