'Taken by Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis': Film Review

Courtesy of MoMA

Catnip for anyone with a treasured LP collection.

Roddy Bogawa's documentary recounts the life and career of the famed designer of such classic album covers as Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy."

How do kids today roll their marijuana joints?

That's just one of the questions raised by Roddy Bogawa's documentary about Storm Thorgerson, the designer of such legendary album covers as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, and countless others. As one of Thorgerson's colleagues points out, "We had a palette," meaning the large LP cover that is mostly extinct in today's era of DVDs and digital music. Those too young to remember past halcyon days will discover what they're missing in Taken by Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis.

Thorgerson is described in the film as "the last great living surrealist," which was true when the documentary was shot in 2011 but no longer is, as he died in 2013. But he's very much a vital presence on screen as he drolly recounts the story of his life and career.

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His grammar school friendship with Syd Barrett and Roger Waters led to his company, punningly named Hipgnosis, getting to design the cover for Pink Floyd's album A Saucerful of Secrets. Self-effacingly revealing that "I can't draw and I can't paint," the artist instead used the medium of photography, which he describes as "malleable." His wildly imaginative creations, frequently compared to Dali and Magritte, were painstakingly and realistically assembled so that, for instance, the hundreds of hospital beds on a beach displayed on the cover of Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lack of Reason were actually there.

When that band decided that they wanted something "cool and graphic" for their Dark Side of the Moon LP, he reluctantly changed his style. The result ironically became Thorgerson's best-known creation, one that is ubiquitously seen on T-shirts to this day.

Many of Thorgerson's former clients weigh in via interviews, including: Robert Plant, extolling his bold idea to sheath Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door in a brown paper bag; Peter Gabriel, explaining that he was only persuaded to display his face on his album covers when Thorgerson showed him the photographic alterations; and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, who testifies to his band's complete confidence in the artist's work.

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Thorgerson's career took a turn to the worse when Hipgnosis expanded into music video production, with disastrous results. Although its first effort, Paul Young's "Wherever I Lay My Hat," was a hit, the company went under within a couple of years due to wild overspending and such demanding clients as Barry Gibb, who he cheekishly describes as "cosmic punishment." 

For many, the album covers on frequent display in the film will be instantly recognizable. But even for those younger viewers who won't succumb to nostalgic reveries, Taken by Storm is a fascinating music doc that showcases the artist behind those memorable images.

Director: Roddy Bogawa
Producers: Roddy Bogawa, Rob Roth, Orion Williams
Director of photography: Benjamin P. Speth
Editor: Karen Skloss
Composer: Chris Brokaw

Not rated, 95 min.

 

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