Jan 25, 2023
By Kaveh Jalinous
After a Joy Division biopic in 2007, a James Dean biopic in 2015 and a Depeche Mode concert film in 2019, Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn is back with his first film in four years. With Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis), the veteran director tackles a different side of the music industry: the world of album covers.
The reasons why Corbijn wanted to make this documentary become clear about two minutes into the film, when audiences first learn about Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, the artists and creators of Hipgnosis, a company that specialized in album covers throughout the 1970s. Stumbling into the field by chance, the two British artists found success by using their wits, wacky ideas and perfectionist natures to take photographs that constantly shocked everyone in the music world with their ingenious meaning and distinct visual style. Working with bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Wings and countless others, the duo behind Hipgnosis is responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of all time, most notably: Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Using a distinct structure–including archival stock, talking heads footage and even short painted animation clips–Corbijn takes the audience through Hipgnosis’s 15 years of existence, beginning with how the group formed and ending with how they dissolved. Along the way, dialogues with Powell and a handful of artists–including David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney, among others–explain how Hipgnosis captured such incredible cover photos and how grand their influence was in the past and present.
At first glance, one might believe that Squaring the Circle appeals only to a specific type of audience: people familiar with the bands, the music of the 1970s or just documentary lovers in general. But, the beauty of Corbijn’s film is that anyone–even those who know The Dark Side of the Moon’s cover and nothing more–can find things to enjoy and love in Hipgnosis’ story. The film places a strong emphasis on the company’s constant struggle to create images that represent each album’s sonic style and embody each band’s vision, but on its surface, the film is just a series of entertaining tales about the lengths the duo took to capture some of their cover photos. Just hearing Powell talk about flying to Hawaii to take a photo of a sheep on a psychiatrist’s couch (for the cover of 10cc’s Look Hear?) or sneaking onto a farm to snap a photo of a cow (for the cover of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother) is deeply entertaining, humorous, and heartfelt. To this extent, the documentary’s powerful themes on the creative process are just a bonus.
Corbijn’s multi-faceted structure also keeps the documentary entertaining from start to finish. The film’s narrative tends to get a bit repetitive since it is just a linear retelling of the company’s history. Regardless, the constant oscillation between different styles of documentary filmmaking, as well as the film’s transition between monochrome interview scenes and bright-colored album covers always keeps the viewer engaged, eagerly awaiting and excited to see which album cover, and associated story, will be covered next.
Author rating: 7.5/10
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