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Film Review: Documentary Introduces Audiences To The Amazing ‘Pablo’ Ferro

Famously Unknown’ Graphic Designer Gets The Spotlight

Trailer: 'Dr. Strangelove'

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the documentary "Pablo."


Companion Viewing

"Dr. Strangelove" (1964)

"The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968)

"A Clockwork Orange" (1971)

The documentary "Pablo" introduces you to the "famously unknown" graphic designer and art director Pablo Ferro. It opens August 9 at the Digital Gym Cinema.

Pablo Ferro is not a household name but if you’ve been to the movies in past fifty years you’ve most likely seen his work. So who is this guy? He’s a graphic designer, animator, editor, art director, and designer of opening title sequences for films. He did the tall narrow lettering for "Dr. Strangelove," the split screens of "The Thomas Crown Affair," and the handwritten title for "Napoleon Dynamite." He was also a pioneer of quick cutting in commercials and movie trailers. He worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Gus Van Sant and Michael Jackson. He’s also an engagingly idiosyncratic man and a captivating subject for a documentary.

"An art director first of all has taste, and educated taste," says Myrna Davis, a member of the Art Directors Club that honored Ferro. "An art director may not take the photograph, he may not make the drawing, he may not write the copy but he knows how to put it all together in to a compelling visual statement."

Actress Anjelica Huston says of Ferro: "Something about the essence of Pablo Ferro, he has a kind of revolutionary feel to him. He’s like certain shamans you know. When you evoke his name there’s a kind of energy and a humor and a good will. He’s a true artist."

And that's why he's one of the few people to receive a credit for the work he does creating opening title sequences in movies. Below are the opening titles he did for Norman Jewison's "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming."

Opening Titles for The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming

He also did the innovative split screen work in "The Thomas Crown Affair" that has now become clichéd. In the film he explains the elaborate and painstaking process of getting upwards of 60 images on screen at the same time.

Split Screen Editing in The Thomas Crown Affair

Film critic Leonard Maltin says of Ferro's work in the film, "It was something bold and different, it’s part of what made the film so chic and stylish, so arresting."

"By juxtaposing all these images simultaneously we all were thinking, ‘Wow! How cool, how brilliantly fashioned.’ What we in the audience saw was this whole new cinematic frontier. That had suddenly been opened up," adds director Jonathan Demme.

Below is a sample of his graphic design and editing work for the trailer of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange."

Trailer: A Clockwork Orange

DSW - "Indoctrinated" Short Film from Jim Ellis on Vimeo.

Ferro always seemed ahead of the curve and he helped define more than one era of filmmaking.

The documentary is fascinating but director Richard Goldgewicht tries so hard to be innovative and stylish like Ferro that he often ends up often distracting us from his subject. He tries his hand at rapid cutting his materials but the end result is that he makes the audience feel bombarded by information so that we can't appreciate any of it. Goldgewicht imitates the surface style of Ferro but without understanding the artistic inspiration that is also needed. He also makes up for the lack of archival footage of Ferro by employing animation for much of the film and that proves more successful. But then he adds a very self-consciously affected narration by Jeff Bridges that has lines such as "This is Pablo Ferro getting paid money… And this is a sauna." Again, Goldgewicht makes a creative decision that proves more distracting than anything else.

But despite its flaws, "Pablo" successfully introduces us to the amazingly talented Ferro and his brilliant body of work that most people probably didn’t even know he created.

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