Playfully reckoning with the legacy of the iconic design group, this is a compelling look at the ambitions of a long-gone era
Behind some of the most iconic album sleeves of all time, graphic design legends Hipgnosis can easily lay claim to being the true “rock stars” of the design world. It’s a status that makes them a perfect fit for director and iconic-in-his-own-right music photographer Anton Corbijn, whose new documentary about the label, Squaring the Circle, is an incredibly fun tour through rock and art history.
Through talking heads, behind the scenes footage, and brief animated interludes, Corbijn takes us through Hipgnosis’s output pretty much in chronological order, seeing how they thought up and executed album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Wings, and more through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Our primary guide is Aubrey “Po” Powell, one half, along with the late Storm Thorgerson, of Hipgnosis’s lead creative duo, whose recollections of the ideas, shoots, and his tumultuous creative friendship with Storm are highly compelling throughout.
Of course, there’s input from music legends, too, from Paul McCartney to Roger Waters to Noel Gallagher offering a modern perspective on how the artistry of album covers has been lost and neglected in the digital age. It’s hardly a revolutionary structure for a music industry documentary, but Corbijn keeps things moving at a great pace, while the interviews themselves are reliably intriguing and funny insights into the heyday of rock star excess.
Even if you’ve never heard of Hipgnosis before, there’s no possible way that you haven’t been exposed to their work (especially their “Dark Side of the Moon” cover), and Squaring the Circle is an admirable attempt at capturing that immense, hegemonic legacy without ever being too self-serious. An ode to the ambition of an era now long gone, it’ll be catnip for pre-existing fans and could well win some new devotees over, too.
Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) is released in UK cinemas and Curzon Home Cinema on 14 July.Where to watch