Watch 15 Films by Designers Charles & Ray Eames

If you’re read­ing this, chances are good that you live in the mod­ern world, or at least vis­it it from time to time. But what do I mean by “mod­ern”? It’s a too-broad term that always requires a def­i­n­i­tion. Some­times, for brevity’s sake, we set­tle for list­ing the names of artists who brought moder­ni­ty into being. When it comes to the tru­ly mod­ern in indus­tri­al design, we get two names in one—the hus­band and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames.

The design world, at least in the U.S., may have been slow­er to catch up to oth­er mod­ernist trends in the arts. That changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly when sev­er­al Euro­pean artists like Wal­ter Gropius immi­grat­ed to the coun­try before, dur­ing and after World War II. But the Amer­i­can Eames left per­haps the most last­ing impact of them all.

The first home they designed and built togeth­er in 1949 as part of the Case Study House Pro­gram became “a mec­ca for archi­tects and design­ers from both near and far,” notes the Eames Office site. “Today it is con­sid­ered one of the most impor­tant post-war res­i­dences any­where in the world.” “Famous for their icon­ic chairs,” writes William Cook at the BBC, the stream­lined objets that “trans­formed our idea of mod­ern fur­ni­ture,” they were also “graph­ic and tex­tile design­ers, archi­tects and film­mak­ers.”

The Eames’ film lega­cy may be less well-known than their rev­o­lu­tions in inte­ri­or design. We’ve all seen or inter­act­ed with innu­mer­able ver­sions of Eames-inspired designs, whether we knew it or not. The pair stat­ed their desire to make uni­ver­sal­ly use­ful cre­ations in their suc­cinct mis­sion state­ment: “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” They meant it. “What works good,” said Ray, “is bet­ter than what looks good because what works good lasts.”

When design “works good,” the Eames under­stood, it might be attrac­tive, or pure­ly func­tion­al, but it will always be acces­si­ble, unob­tru­sive, com­fort­able, and prac­ti­cal. We might notice its con­tours and won­der about its prin­ci­ples, but it works equal­ly well, and maybe bet­ter, if we do not. The Eames films explain how one accom­plish­es such design. “Between 1950 and 1982,” the Eames “made over 125 short films rang­ing from 1–30 min­utes in length,” notes the Eames Office site, declar­ing: “The Eames Films are the Eames Essays.”

If this state­ment has pre­pared you for dry, didac­tic short films filled with jar­gon, pre­pare to be sur­prised by the breadth and depth of the Eames’ curios­i­ty and vision. Here, we have com­piled some of the Eames films, and you can see many, many more (15 in total) with the playlist embed­ded at the bot­tom of the post. At the top, see a brief intro­duc­tion the design­ers’ films. Then, fur­ther down, we have the “bril­liant tour of the uni­verse” that is 1977’s Pow­ers of Ten; 1957’s Day of the Dead, their explo­ration of the Mex­i­can hol­i­day; and 1961’s “Sym­me­try,” one of five shorts in a col­lec­tion made for IBM called Math­e­mat­i­ca Peep Shows.

Just above, see the Eames short House, made after five years of liv­ing in their famed Case Study House #8. The design on dis­play here shows how the Eames “brought into the world a new kind of Cal­i­forn­ian indoor-out­door Mod­ernism,” as Col­in Mar­shall wrote in a recent post here on famous archi­tects’ homes. Their house is “a kind of Mon­dri­an paint­ing made into a liv­able box filled with an idio­syn­crat­ic arrange­ment of arti­facts from all over the world.” Unlike most of the Eames designs, the Case Study house was nev­er put into pro­duc­tion, but in its ele­gant sim­plic­i­ty, we can see all of the cre­ative impuls­es the Eames brought to their redesign of the mod­ern world.

See many more of the Eames filmic essays in this YouTube playlist. There are 15 in total.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Pow­ers of Ten and Let Design­ers Charles & Ray Eames Take You on a Bril­liant Tour of the Uni­verse

How the Icon­ic Eames Lounge Chair Is Made, From Start to Fin­ish

Vis­it the Homes That Great Archi­tects Designed for Them­selves: Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Cor­busier, Wal­ter Gropius & Frank Gehry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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