Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Artist (and typography)

I can’t remember when I last saw a new comedy-drama as good as The Artist (2011, dir. Michel Hazanavicius). In these troubled times, The Artist offers the viewer a sweet escape into a world of laughter, music, and tears. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are brilliant performers, and they look like the people they’re playing, actors from the 1920s and 30s. Everyone in the cast looks right: James Cutler and John Goodman in particular seem to be genuine time-travelers. (Contrast, say, Mad Men, in which everyone appears to be playing dress-up.) The film itself looks the part too, especially in outdoor scenes, which have the thin, watery light that suggests old. Three cheers for cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman.

There’s only one false touch in the film, and I’m not embarrassed to point it out: the intertitles use straight (“dumb”) quotation marks (" ") around dialogue, not curved (“ ”) quotation marks, aka “book quotes” or “curly quotes” or “smart quotes” or “typographic quotation marks.” Glance through an assortment of silent-film intertitles and it’s easy to see that proper quotation marks were the norm. Elaine and I are hardly typomaniacs: that we noticed the glitch makes me think that it will be widely noticed. (And perhaps corrected for the DVD, please?)

Umberto Eco says that Casablanca is “the movies.” So too is The Artist. Go see the movies!

March 6: Type designer Mark Simonson writes about The Artist and typography: The Artist vs. The Lettering Artist. Thanks to Daughter Number Three for the link.

[“In these troubled times”: yes, that’s a cliché. We saw The Artist at east-central Illinois’s best theater, The Art Theater.]

comments: 7

C Poticha said...

The poor use of what I call “actual quotation marks”, as opposed to minutes/feet and seconds/inches markers, comes stems from the old typewriters which can also be blamed for many people putting two spaces after the full-stop (period).

In the case of the artwork in The Artist, it can surely be traced back to the French. Nobody’s as guilty as they are in failing to understand l'difference between these marks.

All my years of setting copy from French sources has taught me that most French speakers actually think the minute/feet mark is an optional form of apostrophe. Which is odd, seeing as how often they have to use it in their language. I’ve even seen them use the single quote as an accent.

Michael Leddy said...

C., I just looked at Le Monde online and found straight quotation marks. Paris Match has curved ones. Where have all the guillemets gone?

Here in the American midwest, the single quotation mark as an accent (after not above a letter) is still pretty common. People sometimes both type and write their names that way.

C Poticha said...

I don’t want to take this thread too far off-topic, but I noticed both types on the Paris Match homepage.

Indeed, maybe the French would be better off using the old style guillemets if they can’t learn how to type the correct punctuation marks. It doesn’t help them with their apostrophe problem, though.

I’ve seen quotation marks novelly used simply for emphasis in the American midwest. My favorite example being a handwritten sign in a bakery for “‘fresh’ rolls”. Let the buyer beware.

I’ve been typing on a Mac from the beginning—where it was all just a matter of learning a few basic combinations. It only took me about a week to have the 5 or 6 simple relevant combinations memorized. (single- and double-quotes; em- and en-dashes; umlauts; accents and circumflexes, etc.—and it was relatively late that I learned how much more difficult it was for Windows users to type these symbols and diacriticals correctly. Something like ASCII codes, I think. Is it any wonder basic typography has suffered so in the last decades?

It’s really not surprising, now that most text is delivered online, that Paris Match is so sloppy. In the old days you could only be assured proper punctuation and diacriticals on a webpage if you used special ASCII codes. Some people used non-standard HTML tags, but these were not universally supported. Nowadays, depending on the content management scheme, some characters are automatically converted. This presents its own set of problems, as the system may interpret a symbol incorrectly, converting an inches mark (double prime into a double (curly) quotation mark.

Let’s just say the crimes against typography are many and varied in the era of democratized content.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, the Paris Match front page now has both kinds of quotation marks — and guillemets too.

It seems to me relatively easy for a Windows user to turn on smart quotes. But those characters seem not to translate properly online. I often see gibberish for quotation marks in the online version of the local paper. The writers there must be using MS Word.

Those of us who teach have some responsibility, I’d say, to proselytize for proper typography. I do so all the time. Here on Orange Crate Art, I use HTML codes (with TextExpander shortcuts) or Markdown to get proper dashes and quotation marks.

C Poticha said...

I’m not a fan of turning on smart quotes. They don’t really work well—mistaking an apostrophe for a single left quote, or changing inches or feet markers into quotation marks—and they won’t always help in HTML. I usually discourage that avenue.

Everything I’ve typed here was done using the simple keyboard combinations on a Mac. Option+[ for double open-quote, option+shift+[ for double close-quote, option+shift+] for proper apostrophes, and option+shift+hyphen for em-dash. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years, and it’s just a habit now. Windows users apparently have to enter “alt” plus a series of numbers which are much harder to memorize.

I’m a graphic designer, and have found that this is one of the first things I have to teach members of staff in agencies or companies with which I work. If they deliver bad text, I have to charge them for making the required substitutions throughout the text. They usually agree to supply proper text, but they rarely actually do. This makes me an unofficial proofreader, often with higher typographic standards than the official proofreader, who is usually only looking at the spelling of the words. Luckily, they tend to appreciate my high standards, and let me get on with it.

BTW, check out the quotes on the top of this comments page. Uh-oh.

Daughter Number Three said...

Michael, there's a new article critiquing the typography in The Artist:

Michael Leddy said...

Very impressive. Thanks for the link.