Today's spotlight of Robert Brownjohn is particularly interesting to me personally because I am uttering fascinated by typography. Brownjohn's vision and approach to blending fonts and the colorful, crazy and liberating nature of popular culture during the 1960s are probably best represented by his title designs for From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. The power of his modernist vision had a long term impact on the Bond films and became an enduring facet of the franchise.
Born this day in 1925
Titles Design for From Russia with Love, Goldfinger
American graphic designer Robert Brownjohn was originally from Newark, New Jersey at the height of the roaring 20s, a time of great artistic experimentation in which new concepts and styles emerged. That, coupled with being a protégé of avant garde artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, led Brownjohn’s style to marry a rigid illustrative aesthetic with popular culture during the 1960s.
|A page from Watching Words Move|
After graduating from the Institute of Design in Chicago, Brownjohn became a freelance graphic design artist. He moved to New York, making a name for himself and fostering friendships within the social scene. While positive for his rising career; there was a darker side – he developed an addiction for heroin. He formed Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar and together they experimented with typographical design with such projects as Watching Words Move. One of their high profile clients was Pepsi-Cola Company. Within a handful of years after starting the company, Brownjohn moved his family to London and a country that was more tolerant of drug use. The company he founded still exists today as Chermayeff & Geismar.
|Taking inspiration from Moholy-Nagy's 1920s projects|
Settling into English city living, Brownjohn worked with a couple of advertising agencies in London and in 1963, he was approached to replace Maurice Binder, title designer for Dr. No and originally hired to title From Russia with Love.
Brownjohn looked to his past studies with his mentor Moholy-Nagy, finding inspiration in his mentor’s 1920s constructivist projects experimenting with and projecting light. He took the clean font type and projected the credits against the shimmying hips, seductive rolling bare midriffs and shaking beaded breasts of belly dancers. Depending on one’s point of view, either Brownjohn should be eternally thanked or cursed because his artistic vision led to the franchise’s tradition to have sensual dancing women, wearing little or nothing at all, to be featured in the title sequences of the Eon Productions’ Bond films for many years thereafter.
The progressive graphic artist returned and completed the title design for Goldfinger. However, Brownjohn and Harry Saltzman apparently had a falling out, ending Brownjohn’s associating with the franchise. He did go on to complete the title sequence of two other films: comedy adventure Where the Spies Are (1965) starring David Niven and war mystery The Night of the Generals (1967), which featured a couple of Bond alum villains, Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray.
Sadly, this immense talent was gone at the age of 44 in 1970 when he died from a heart attack. It would have been fascinating to see how his art would have evolved from the influences of disco, punk and new wave sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.
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