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JOHN CARPENTER’S FAVOURITE FONT

June 25, 2009

Blog post from March 2009.

I’m a John Carpenter fanatic – while I can offer no explanation for how appalling ‘Ghosts Of Mars’ or ‘Escape From LA’ turned out to be, like some slithering special effect, his widely-derided ‘Masters Of Horror’ ‘Pro-Life’ episode, hated by me on viewing, seems to have gestated in my brain, leaving me curious as to whether it wasn’t that bad. Still, I doubt I’ll revisit. His entire 80’s output however, is genre filmmaking as an artform. Recurring names like Dean Cundy on cinematography and John’s hugely-successful DIY synth approach to scoring were part of the enjoyment, but his use of a trademark font adds a true signature to his productions.

Let’s rewind for a second. As a kid, I was preoccupied (mild Aspergers?) with a correlation between VHS box typography and that used in the opening credits of the film itself. Often, even on the biggest blockbusters, it didn’t add up. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ carried box lettering that promised a rollercoaster ride – the Eurostyle font that opened the film didn’t work for me. Grown up, I can appreciate the aesthetic. Not at five years old. Then there was ‘Escape From New York’ – the cover, with its fallen Statue Of Liberty head, was, in its own way, pretty misleading, but that futuristic font? Nothing like the one used. But this time it didn’t matter.

Albertus MT, a matter-of-fact mode of lettering if ever there was one, set against Carpenter’s composition worked perfectly. Harking back to 1932, it’s not particularly futuristic given the 1997 setting, yet there’s a chilly, gothic feel to his work (bar the likes of ‘Starman’ which uses it regardless) that makes it oddly appropriate.

On a future note, there seems to be plenty of debate about Futura, which Kubrick, a sans serif man, dabbled in before using it on his frugal final decades of output, and whether it can truly be considered a trademark touch to his movies. Notably, Carpenter’s 1980 ‘The Fog’ seems to use a variation on Futura, but as of 1981, it’s pretty much Albertus all the way. Sometimes a different font might title the film (like ‘They Live’ and its graffiti or ‘Christine’ and her Plymouth Fury badge tribute), but it’s my favourite font that delivers the rest of the credits.

With the font originally made for Monotype by design titan Berthold Wolpe, there’s always room to mention Berthold’s 1500+ covers for Faber over 34 years. Visionary. Check here for some more of his Faber covers, and here for images of the Berthold Wolpe exhibition that ran at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz that are so good I want to make people look at them at knifepoint. Not entirely unlike a deranged protagonist terrorizing the cast in a Carpenter flick.

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