For those of us familiar with the husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames, their names bring images of bent ply furniture and films, the packed 901 studio, and the impressive Case Study house in Pacific Palisades. However, most of us certainly don’t know a great deal about their personal lives or working habits. In Eames: The Architect and the Painter, the new documentary by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, we have a closer glimpse.
The Eameses both had extraordinary skills and weaknesses. Charles, an architect that rarely practiced, and Ray, a painter than that rarely painted, had their own personal shortcomings, and it’s refreshing to hear both the admiration and honesty in the voices of the fellow designers and friends that knew the couple for many years. There’s several winning quotes that show exactly how devoted and, at times, frustrated one could be with the Eameses. (One particular case that stands out is architect Kevin Roche saying he was “f*@cked off” when Ray presented a floral centerpiece as a ‘visual dessert’ after dinner.)
The film also tackles the area of who-did-what, making note of Ray’s involvement in the design process (especially gratifying after Marilyn Neuhart’s charge in her book The Story of Eames Furniture that Ray had little to do with any actual designing) and how Charles tended to take credit for the work that many people contributed to, and occasionally, did altogether. Yet it also shows the distinct strengths of Charles and Ray, and how they complimented each other in skill sets. There’s also a bit about Charles and his relationships with other women; all was not as rosy as the grinning frozen photos seem to suggest.
You’ll also see the many projects they worked on, from the plywood and fiberglass chairs to the films, photography, and exhibitions made for IBM and other large corporations. The “information overload” technique they used for some of the projects seems more at home in today’s daily life, especially as seen in their 1959 “Glimpses of the USA” project. The multiple screens with thousands of images of American life is not so different from one’s computer screen each day, with most of us juggling multiple windows and various info streams.
Their vast amount of work is no small feat, for sure. This film tells the story of Charles and Ray and their artistic collaboration in layers, and the end result is a better understanding of who they were and how they came to have such an impact on American culture.
For showtimes, visit First Run Features.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter, a film by Jason Cohn & Bill Jersey.