It may be the most famous album cover ever created.
The background – black. In the foreground, a beam of white light passes through a triangular prism and exits, separating into bright bands of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
The artwork, as any true rock fan can tell you instantly, is for Pink Floyd’s 1973 album. dark side of the moon. We know the band, we know the album, but who designed the cover for that album? It came from the brilliant British design firm Hipgnosis, the subject of the new documentary. Squaring the circle (the story of hypnosis). Anton Corbijn directed the film, which had its world premiere over Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival.
“The beauty of white on black [background], with colors, it’s just simplicity,” Corbijn says of that prismatic design. “I think it’s a beautiful album cover, and I think it probably defines the album cover”.
If Hipgnosis had created just that unforgettable album cover, it would be worth noting. But the team founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell designed a host of iconic covers in the 1970s and ’80s for some of the biggest artists in music history, including Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney and Wings. T-Rex, 10cc. , Peter Gabriel, Genesis, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Yes, the aforementioned Pink Floyd and others.
Unlike the austere graphic design of dark side of the moon, many of Hipgnosis’s best-known covers took advantage of photographic imagery. 1970 Pink Floyd album atom, heart, mother it famously depicted a grazing cow looking over its shoulder into the camera lens. Led Zeppelin album from 1973 Houses of the Holy it shows what have been described as “blonde-haired nudist boys” scattered across an eerily lunar landscape. As the documentary explores, the Houses of the Holy The cover involved remote location photography, colorization on post, and multiplication of the original two child models into the nearly dozen seen on the cover (this was created decades before the digital age made such manipulation instant).
Corbijn, a filmmaker, photographer, album art designer and music video director, says he grew up intrigued by Hipgnosis’s work.
“For all the motos, I always wondered, how did they do that? Are you on camera? How can you do that on camera? remember wondering. “Obviously I later learned how good they were at cutting things up and making collages in a way that they’re invisible.”
Thorgerson and Powell chose the hybrid name Hipgnosis for their company as a play on hypnosis, but also “hip” in the sense of cool, combined with “gnosis”, an ancient Greek word meaning knowledge or learning. His work also reflected a hybrid of talents.
“Storm was definitely the artistic one, the great artistic one. And Po was a good photographer,” says Corbijn. And Po was a good salesman. He is a great salesman. He helped on the film because he’s a great storyteller.”
Thorgerson died in 2013 at the age of 69. Powell, who will turn 76 later this month, started the film project.
“Po came to Amsterdam to talk to me and see if I was interested in making a documentary,” explains Corbijn. “Just listening to his stories, I realized there was a big story there because of course it’s culturally important, but it’s also a human story between these two guys. So it was good to have that woven together.”
There was great affection between Thorgerson and Powell, but no small measure of creative conflict. That was due in part to Thorgerson’s defiant personality: in the film, paradoxically, he is portrayed as rude but endearing. He could be extremely direct, no matter how famous the client was. McCartney once released Hipgnosis as a cover concept, for the 1975 Wings album. venus and mars – which Thorgerson rejected.
“Tell Paul McCartney, when he paid for you to go to Los Angeles and say, ‘Well, Paul, I don’t like your idea. I’m going home’, that’s enough”, reflects Corbijn. I’m sorry I never met him. I would have loved to have met Storm.”
(An earlier idea by McCartney for a Wings album cover, 1973 band on the runit did fly with the partners of Hipgnosis and they turned it into another of the most famous album covers in rock history).
Corbijn interviews McCartney in the film, along with many other rock luminaries with memories of Hipgnosis to share, including Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel and Graham Gouldman of 10cc. The stories are priceless, including the time Hipgnosis set a guy on fire for an album cover and a photo shoot in London for a Pink Floyd record that went south, prompting the Royal Air Force to send fighter planes to track down a wandering flying pig. .
Corbijn grew up in the Netherlands, appreciating many of those albums when he was young, both for the music and the cover art.
“He had all the Peter Gabriel covers, for sure… He had a lot of Pink Floyd stuff,” the director tells Deadline. “When I grew up, music was my great love. I really connected with it… [collecting] album covers and music magazines. It was the ’70s, you didn’t have Google or anything, but all the information you needed was on a record sleeve.”
Vinyl has enjoyed a resurgence, but the era of iconic covers is over.
“There’s a lot of attention, again, for album art,” says Corbijn, “but the importance of album art will never be the same as it was in the ’70s.”
Quadrature of the circle (the title refers to the notion of placing a square album cover on top of a circular disc) is a Telluride acquisition title.
“We are going to show it to the buyers. So hopefully in the next few weeks we’ll have more clarity on that,” says Corbijn, adding that the Telluride premiere was a success. “It was very well received…an incredibly positive audience. It was really nice to sit in the middle of that.”
Like a new film without distribution, Quadrature of the circle debuts without a movie poster. As he thinks about creating one, Corbijn faces a challenge similar to the one Thorgerson, Powell and their associates encountered when they dreamed up album art decades ago.
hitting the image of dark side of the moon on the poster it would feel too obvious, Corbijn says, so he’s thinking of combining text elements with still-to-be-determined images.
He observes, “I have to see if the poster can attract people outside of people who know the word Hygnosis.”