The art behind the album cover has always been a subject of fascination. The ideas an artist wishes to convey on their own piece of art can make a statement. Pink Floyd remains one of the most communicative with their artwork in the history of Vinyl records. From anti-capitalist statements to the iconic cover of The Dark Side of the Moon, their album designs became instantly iconic. Director Anton Corbijn explores the studio responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the 1970s and 1980s. His latest, Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis, is both wildly entertaining and a fun exploration of the era. While it runs a little longer than necessary, Squaring the Circle should quickly rise up the watchlist for fans of 1970s Brit Rock.
The origins of Hipgnosis are as humble as one could imagine. After being raided by the cops (and while partaking in illicit substances), two young artists became joined at the hip. Aubrey “Po” Powell had won the loyalty of Storm Thogerson, and the two became inseparable. They also ran in the same crowds as Syd Barrett and other members of Pink Floyd. When the band began breaking out in Britain, Po and Storm offered to design the artwork for their albums. Soon, the two artists found themselves at the center of a burgeoning art scene when vinyl was king.
Corbijn, a director of narrative films, concert documentaries, and music videos, is no stranger to the importance of visual storytelling. He tells Squaring the Circle from the perspective of the artist, despite peppering in dozens of talking head interviews. First and foremost, he wants to hear about Po’s process of creating iconic images in rock music history. Throughout the film, Corbijn plays with style and framing, creating an energy that’s above your traditional informative documentary.
However, this occasionally results in some extraneous information leaking into the film. The worst offender comes in the form of the recurring talking head appearances of Noel Gallagher. His insight into Hipgnosis as a budding musician feels important, but using a single artist does not showcase the influence of Hipgnosis. Instead, rotating important musical figures would have been far more effective.
Unfortunately, there are too many moments where we only hear about the creative process of making a singular album cover. On one hand, we do not want our favorites skipped over, especially because so many of the images remain iconic fifty years later. This also helps set a fun and entertaining tone in the first half of the film, where hijinks to complete the work led to genuinely thrilling stories. However, there’s more meat on the bone, and Squaring the Circle seems to come up short in some areas. The most obvious regards Hipgnosis’ influence on their contemporaries, while modern-day artists attempt to replicate their work.
Even so, Squaring the Circle is a rock enthusiast’s dream. Hearing stories from Paul McCartney, David Gilmour, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and Peter Gabriel feels incredible. These are not even sanitized versions of the tales; instead, they are told with warts present for all to see. It’s a fun peak behind the curtain of the creative process and helps to highlight the true communities that form around it. If nothing else, Hipgnosis became a brotherhood. Watching the rise and fall of these men makes for an enthralling tale.