Pity Gen Z for many things, but especially for never knowing the joys of vinyl - the waiting in line for new releases, the reverential first play, the endless mooning over the iconic cover art, interpreting and reinterpreting now iconic images. Noel Gallagher sums it up best when he observes that his kid doesn't even know what cover art is, least of all why anyone would pay for it. Thumbnail schnumbnail. But in the old days of prog rock when drum solos could last half an hour and record companies were allowing their stadium bands unprecedented freedom, the album cover was the art of the masses (again, aptly put by Noel). And if album covers were art then Hipgnosis aka Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey "Po" Powell were the most influential artists of their time. Almost every classic cover you know from Led Zip, the Floyd, 10CC, Peter Gabriel, and more besides were designed by this duo. They seem to have fallen into the job by way of psychedelic drug-taking and happening to know Pink Floyd. It's the kind of weird whacky shit you can't make it: they amass their first lighting rig from Roman Polanski who was shooting REPULSION in the same apartment block. Drugs killed Bono and video killed Hipgnosis. There was a half-arsed attempt at becoming video artists but it broke up without record companies to under-write their (or specifically Storm's) excesses. But what a time they had.
Photographer and fiction feature director Anton Corbijn (CONTROL) tells this story in his trademark black and white, with only the album covers themselves in glorious colour. The doc is centred around a candid and deeply moving interview with Po and old footage of the design studio members at their height. We also get context and insight from new interviews with members of Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel. Their respect for the art of Hipgnosis is clear. And with this doc we all get to go behind the scenes of some of their most iconic album cover shoots and relive their glory. Splendid stuff.
SQUARING THE CIRCLE (THE STORY OF HIPGNOSIS) has a running time of 101 minutes. It played Telluride 2022 and Sundance 2023 and was released in UK cinemas and streaming platforms last weekend.