running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Sight And Sound in the 70s

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Recently rediscovered - a set of vintage copies of Sight and Sound, tucked away in an old folio case in the study. The four shown below are from 1973 (Spring and Autumn), 1975 (Summer) and 1976 (Summer). A look through them can tell you a bit about editorial design during that era.

At the start of the 1970s, editorial design was in a state of change and upheaval. The 'Americanised' version of the Swiss Style that had dominated the mid and late 60's, exemplified by the overuse of Helvetica and Avant Garde, was looking tired and boring.  There was a sense of stagnation in mainstream magazines, and everything looked the same. Fortunately, the counterculture had shifted into a more pop-based phenomenon and this gave design, (and in particular typography) an injection of looseness it hadn't experienced since the days of the Constructivists.  Wolfgang Weingart led the way, and almost singlehandedly reinvented the rules of typographic design, but in the commercial magazine market, there was still room for adventurous combinations and the odd bit of left-field art direction.

Sight And Sound typified this. These four editions, all edited by Penelope Houston and designed by John Harmer, show all of the excesses and restrictions of layout style of the period.

The two mastheads are a good starting point. In the earlier editions, there's a superweight, psychedelic-tinged sans serif with a sort of fanzine-like personality. The cost is interesting to note too - 30p or $1.50 for a copy.  By 1976 the price was up to 55p or $2.00, and the masthead had been redesigned in tightly-tracked extended Eurostile, probably the classic version of the title, and it still looks great.  It even feels a bit digital.

For the spreads there is an overwhelming sense that everything is very static.  I went through all four magazines and found an awful lot of very boring spreads, even if the films weren't. The typographic colour is very dark and flat.  In the articles, there's very little in the way of pull-quotes or subheadings. The body text, set in Times, is justified and hyphenated, and there's a distinct lack of whitespace or contrast. If a spread is set into three column pages, we get just that - three basic columns of non-stop body copy, kicked off with a two-column span standfirst (in the same typeface) and most of the photographs are set neatly into really obvious positions.

There are some exceptions, and I've included a couple of beauties here, the Tarkovsky and Visconti spreads which are a real joy.  The article by Claude Legrand look great too, with a weird font combination and a great empty column. Some classic seventies bespoke typefaces feature as well - the sporty line font for the Cannes Festival and the brilliant block type headline for a review of Nicolas Roeg's 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'.

Compared to a current film magazine like say Empire, or even the modern Sight and Sound itself, everything feels rudimentary. At a glance, some of the  articles look half-finished, as if they may as well be set using lorem ipsum.  There are no full-bleed images, no text run-around, and all the captions are in barely-legible italics. But I think this visual blandness might be missing the point of the magazine. What the design says is less to do with the limitations of the publishing technology of the time, or the art direction, and more to do with the quality of the journalism and content, which was of a very high standard.  A longer attention span may be needed to read it, but you do get fully absorbed in it.  The reviews pages in the Spring 1973 edition is a case in point.  At least six or seven of the movies reviewed, covering just 12 weeks of release time, have all  become classic 1970s films, and with no pictures, quotes, ratings or frills at all, all you get is just the pure writing.

Contents, Summer 1975.

Tarkovsky - 'Solaris' and 'Andrei Rublev', Summer 1973.

Visconti - Obituary and Last Film - 'L'Innocente', Summer 1976.

Reviews, Autumn '73 - including Sam Peckinpah, Bob Rafelson, Nicolas Roeg, Don Siegel, Robert Altman.

Article on financing European Cinema, Claude Legrand, Spring 1973.

Cannes Festival Special, Summer 1976

Man Who Fell To Earth, Review, Summer 1976

Eurostile Next at Linotype.
Eurostile - Fonts In Use.
Sight And Sound -  Selection of 70s copies on eBay.