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Sundance 2023 Review: Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)

A friendship with up-and-coming band called Pink Floyd causes Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell to form art design company Hipgnosis which would go onto create some of the most iconic album covers.

The black and white opening is as surrealistic as the album covers conceived by Hipgnosis as Audrey “Po” Powell carries a portfolio on his back through a graveyard into a building that has the words of the company painted on the back wall and Powell goes about tossing aside all of the key creations that will be the topics of discussion.  The extensive use of archive footage allows for Hipgnosis co-founder Storm Thorgerson who died in 2013 to provide his perspective as well.  Everything gets set in motion as Storm and Po are friends with soon-to-be rockstars Pink Floyd and design some eye-catching album cover artwork for them; the creative partnership proves to be so successful that other musicians like Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin and 10cc.

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Being a photographer as well as a film and music video director makes Anton Corbijn well-suited to produce a documentary about the art and destructiveness of unbridled creativity.  An interesting choice is to have all of the interviews in black and white and to reserve the colour photography for the artwork which rightly makes it the focus of the viewer’s attention.  There is no varnishing as the good and bad is covered thereby making the stories being told fascinating and somewhat sad at the same time.  The chapter graphics emphasize the meaning behind the documentary title and sets up the topic of conversation in a cleverer and effective manner.  There is no shortage of music which no doubt made the project an expensive proposition.

Noel Gallagher makes a sobering appearance as despite of never collaborating with Hipgnosis, he laments how the album covers have been reduced to thumbnail images for MP3 files on iTunes and misses the enjoyment of being physically able to study the packaging for vinyl records which was as creative as the music contained inside.  The closing line in the credits that no cows, pigs or sheep were hurt during the making of the documentary perfectly summons up the irreverent attitude of Hipgnosis and their clients that as a byproduct led to the emergence of iconic concepts that would not come to fruition in this era of recycling established ideas and portrait photography.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19–29, 2023, in person and online, and for more infomration visit sundance.org.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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