First Run Features
By A. O. SCOTT
Published: November 17, 2011All that has been written since the death of Steve Jobs last month is a reminder of how passionate modern consumers can be about the things they buy and how fascinated they are by the people who make and sell them. The appeal of those Apple gadgets -- so sleek and logical, so cool and friendly and flattering to whoever picks them up -- is obvious enough, but the exact nature of Mr. Jobs's contribution has been harder to specify. Was he a visionary innovator or, as Malcolm Gladwell recently argued in The New Yorker, a tireless "tweaker" of the inventions of others? Was he primarily a designer, an engineer, a computer nerd or an artist? A benevolent guru or the center of a cult of personality?
Similar questions circulate through "Eames: The Architect and the Painter," a lively new documentary by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey. The subjects are Charles and Ray Eames, a married couple (sometimes thought to be brothers because of their names) whose approach to product design and the presentation of information was in its way as influential as Mr. Jobs's. Their name is still most commonly associated with the chairs sold by the Herman Miller company, but the film argues that their characteristic mix of the practical and the aesthetic has left traces in nearly every aspect of contemporary life.
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