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Short Takes: Eames: The Architect & The Painter

By Chris Chang

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Eames

It’s pretty hard to say something bad about Charles Eames—or at least make it stick. This lively, informative, and exceedingly reverent documentary doesn’t really, but it leaves enough suspect dots for the viewer to connect. Apparently, Charles and Ray Eames are commonly mistaken to be brothers, when in fact the legendary designers were man and wife. Charles left his first wife and child for Ray. He proposed to a third woman while still married to Ray, but she declined. The women interviewed for the film, specifically former Eames studio employees, seem both worshipful and a little batty—they resemble deprogrammed cultists. Underscoring all of this is mild grumbling about how the man took the credit for everybody else’s work: “I was happy being exploited by a proper master!” Get the picture?

In any event, James Franco, who appears to be trying to emulate the polymathic creativity of Eames in his own life, provides the film’s voiceover. He seems a little awestruck himself when he recites things like: “His future with his new bride now depended on making the chair work.” Interesting fact: after being commissioned by the U.S. Army to make plywood splints (some 150,000 of them), Eames perfected the wood-warping technology that would allow him to make his game-changing chair. As Eames would say (about just about everything) it would provide a new way of “seeing the world.” Which is to say: a piece of furniture can alter perception. Imagine that.

© 2011 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center

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