• Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

Critique of “Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis”

ByRandall B. Phelps

Sep 4, 2022

When it comes to coffee table books that examine great album covers from the classic rock era, there are generally two types: those that include much of the design team’s work from the 1970s called Hipgnosis, and those which consist entirely of Hipgnosis. work. Virtually every rock superstar who had the cachet to ask his record company to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a cover of Hipgnosis went crazy commissioning original artwork that could join the classic LP jackets of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in a revival. photographic surrealism 12’x12′. Only Hipgnosis could take a picture of a cow against a blue sky, put it on a cover of Floyd (“Atom Heart Mother”), and make it look like an act of mysterious depth on par with the greatest works. by Magritte.

Although Hipgnosis in its heyday also did non-photographic covers (see “Dark Side of the Moon”), those that required elaborate photo shoots often have very good stories behind them. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of the giant inflatable pig that flew into the Heathrow flight zone during the filming of Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’; raise both hands now if you want to hear it again. You get that, and a few lesser-told stories, in “Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis,” a preview documentary about Telluride directed by Anton Corbijn, a photographer and creative director who’s pretty much the only guy in the world. also famous for his group design work in his day as the directors of Hipgnosis were back in theirs. As renowned as Corbijn is, you get the feeling that making this film for him might have presented not just a tribute, but an attempt to come to terms with his jealousy of his ancestors – because overall no one has done it better. .

The two main creators of Hipgnosis were the late Storm Thorgerson, the eternally prickly visionary of the two, and – still there, and the film’s key interview – Aubrey “Po” Powell, the longtime partner who accomplished or oversaw the real executing Thorgerson’s wild ideas, often on the spot. They appeared on the Cambridge art scene alongside the young members of Pink Floyd and produced their first design for the band’s second album, “Saucerful of Secrets”, an unusually psychedelic cover that quickly gave way to much more interesting. If you’re a Floyd fan, you may have spent far more time contemplating the aforementioned “Atom Heart” cover and its deeper meaning than the band ever did, or Powell, who was literally standing in his field after spotting a cow by the side of the road that appeared to have an attitude. There may not have been much more than “Set Bessie’s Heart Commands”, but a pattern of marrying the blue sky with objects or natural beings that have taken on an almost mystical value is born.

The three surviving members of Floyd are all giving new interviews, which is about as close as Roger Waters and David Gilmour will ever get again. Throughout the film, there is more personal affection for Thorgerson’s brilliant imagination than for his seeming grossness and lifelong bluntness. So it’s funny and telling that the biggest defender of Thorgerson’s character and personality is Waters, a guy whose irascibility has also rubbed a few people the wrong way over the years. But Thorgerson did the one thing Waters couldn’t forgive, which was to take credit for the concept of the pig flying high over an industrial estate, which the Floyd singer-songwriter insists to be his, and thus ended a beautifully grumpy friendship.

The film is nothing if not a testament to the absurdly high budgets of record labels in the 1970s, which could not everything be put on analog tape and blow. “Squaring the Circle” is kind of fun when it gets into album covers you might recognize, but never spent more than three seconds thinking about it before. Like the cover of “Wings Greatest”: did you know that Paul McCartney had them helicopter in a statue he had bought on top of a mountain for the filming? The result: something that would look to the modern eye as if it had been made in PhotoShop in 10 minutes. Then there’s the 10cc blanket shoot which involved finding a sheep and a psychiatrist couch and putting them on top of each other… in the shallow waters of a lake. Powell remains appalled at having done all that work, and then the image was perversely scaled down by Thorgerson to almost the size of a postage stamp on the finished mock-up. Of course, the hot man effect on the cover of “Wish You Were Here” was done by a real hot man; even now, when hiring a stuntman would never happen, the idea of ​​having all the effects captured behind closed doors lends ongoing intrigue that no computer-generated cover ever will.

What’s a little ironic is how little debt Corbijn’s design work owes to Hipgnosis. Watching the new interview footage in “Squaring the Circle” feels like you’re watching a live-action version of one of his iconic group images, in beautifully austere black and white that’s practically at home. opposite of Hipgnosis. a colorful game, which generally avoided group imagery at all (or, in the case of early Peter Gabriel, found interesting ways to make it unrecognizable). More irony, again: when the era of Hipgnosis is portrayed as coming to an end, the prime murder suspect is MTV and its frothy early ’80s synth-pop acts – illustrated on screen by Depeche Mode , which many pop aficionados will recognize. as the band Corbijn has been most associated with over the decades.

But his creation of this delightful doc as a sidekick, if hardly a copycat, will be a boon to an audience who grew up pondering the mysteries of the twisted monolith on the cover of Zeppelin’s “Presence”; LP porn, if we can call it that, couldn’t reach a better climax. Corbijn doesn’t linger or wonder aloud what happened after the moment this film abruptly ends, amidst financial ruin and changing tastes in 1982. He doesn’t There’s also no discussion of how music mogul Merck Mercuriadis, who appears in and produces the film, ended up with Hipgnosis as the name of his massive song-publishing rights company. But clearly he is a believer, just like all of us who grew up in the golden age of album covers and lament that it was the pictures that got smaller.