Contemporary furniture fans would be hard-pressed to come across a stronger and innovative set of 20th-century designers than Charles and Ray Eames. Although they were often believed to be brothersthey had been a husband-and-wife group, now best known for their iconic line of seats for Herman Miller, also experts on just about any kind of art form. “Charles wasn’t an architect trying to do architecture, or a furniture designer trying to make furniture,” says film producer Bill Jersey. “He Ray were two people who had been hoping to get us to see the world differently.”
When manufacturer Jason Cohn approached Jersey to help him produce a movie on Ray and Charles Eames, Jersey didn’t know much about the couple. “Charles Eames always said he didn’t sell his expertise to clients — he offered his ignorance,” states Jersey. “Exactly the same was true for me with all this particular movie.” As they learned about the few, they understood there was literature in their work, but very little on Charles and Ray as individuals.
Premiere: Eames: The Architect and The Painter aired Dec. 19, 2011 on American Masters. A DVD premiered Tues., Dec. 13, 2011
Interestingly, Cohn’s debut to Charles and Ray Eames was through their films, not their iconic furniture. While in film school, he was given a box set of the experimental movies. “They’re so odd and esoteric, I knew I had to find out more about them,” he states. “The pictures in these pictures stuck for quite a while.”
Film had always been a passion for both Ray and Charles, and they often experimented with films in their workplace. In 1968, they gained nationwide attention with their educational movie, Powers of Ten. Following that, they were quickly hired by the United States Government, IBM, and other large corporations for exhibitions and accompanying movies.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter is the first complete movie about Charles and Ray since their deaths, just 10 decades apart, in 1978 and 1988. “Film is more of a psychological realm than a sensible one,” says Cohn. “We believed it’d be the ideal medium to explore the Eames’s personalities.” “We didn’t necessarily want it to be informative,” states Jersey. “We wanted people to watch the movie and say’wow’.”
During the movie, the viewer is instantly drawn to the exceptional charm of the Eames — especially Charles, who is repeatedly described by former co-workers as charismatic. Despite the charisma that appeared to detract from them equally, there were still facets of their working life that triggered challenges, especially for Ray. A number of the people who they talked to nearly viewed Ray and Charles as saints — but Jersey and Cohn wished to paint a more exact image. “It’s not really a question of exactly what material you want to add, but in case you must,” states Jersey.
Jersey and Cohn invest a lot of time exploring the whimsical home Ray and Charles constructed for themselves in Pacific Palisades, Calif. (pictured), and their charming office at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice Beach. The twosome created unique sets to their lives, installing massive pieces of artwork on the ceiling, inventing gigantic toys to put in their workplace, and always changing everything about. 1 former Eames employee clarifies their workplace as”Disneyland for adults”
Right off the bat, it is clear that Ray and Charles were compulsive, artistic people, and often assumed others were the same. “People we interviewed could talk about how Ray will be walking down the street and just begin shrieking in delight with an item she watched,” says Cohn. “She had a true childlike appreciation for life”
In life, Ray was often overshadowed by Charles, so the manufacturers made sure to provide Ray her fair share of credit in the movie. Jersey and Cohn agree that largely because of the biases of the era, Charles was the surface of the Eames Office. “But our study convinced us that the Eames Office would not have been the same without her,” says Cohn.
“I am not a design historian, aficionado, or furniture geek,” says Cohn. “But my biggest takeaway in terms of layout is the fact that it is not a shallow thing. It’s not a coating gloss you wear a item. When it is practiced correctly, it is about problem solving at a profound level.”
“For me, looking at furniture has been sort of like taking a look at the engine of a vehicle,” states Jersey. “I knew what all of the components did, but I didn’t care about how it was created. Today I can see all the small nuances and thoughts that enter it.”
There is a true comparison in the way that the Eames made their furniture and the way many mass-produced products are created now. Their furniture, films, and artwork were designed with love and created with morality and ethics in mind. “High-quality items and images and items can bring joy, especially when made by joyful people,” Cohn says. “Poor items made by unhappy people do not do that.”
All photographs: Copyright 2011 Eames Office LLC, courtesy of Larsen Associates
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