Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) dives into the wild, fascinating history of how some of the most iconic album covers were created. Read our Squaring the Circle review.
What is the most iconic album cover of all time? Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? Led Zeppelin’s House of the Holy? 10cc’s Original Soundtrack? Whatever it might be, chances are the album cover art was created by Hipgnosis.
Consisting of two blokes from Cambridge, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, Hipgnosis rose to fame in the 1970s thanks to their uncompromising art and innovative designs. In the 15 years Thogerson and Powell were together, Hipgnosis was the place to go if you wanted a unique, rock’n’roll album cover.
Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis), a feature documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Anton Corbijn chronicles the history of Hipgnosis and exactly how these two seemingly ordinary lads became industry legends.
Thogerson and Powell fell out in the early 80s, and Hipgnosis officially disbanded in 1983. Thogerson died in 2013, but Powell lends his voice and memories to the documentary in floating head interviews. It makes for a little lopsided viewing; Powell and many of the bands interviewed often emphasise how difficult Thogerson was and although they never deny his brilliance, he is presented to us as a gruelling, burdensome presence.
Thogerson is heard and seen in archive footage. His volatile attitude doesn’t quite come across here, but he is described as “crabby”, “blunt”, “rude”, and “total genius” by several of the musicians and friends. Squaring the Circle might lack some objectivity, but it’s crafted with a lot of love and makes for an insightful watch.
Corbjin utilises the archive footage to great lengths and has clearly had wonderful access to musicians such as Noel Gallagher, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney. Their interviews are in black-and-white, an inspired artistic choice to really bring the period to life.
The documentary moves through Hipgnosis’ work one album at a time. Powell recounts the crazy stories behind them. The one behind Pink Floyd’s Animals is an all-timer, even if you’re familiar with it. Corbjin presents the album covers as colourful, vibrant and timeless.
Powell, lovingly referred to as Po by friends, is the heart of Squaring the Circle. Without prodding too much, Corbjin brings forth a tremendous amount of longing and regret on Po’s part about how things ended with Thogerson. He defends Thogerson throughout the film, even when Corbjin digs into the thornier aspects of their relationship.
It’s hard not to imagine how these album covers would look today. Gallagher even notes that his daughter did not understand what he meant when he said he’d been stuck in a meeting about the cover art. Gallagher had to explain that he meant the tiny little icon on iTunes. One wishes Squaring the Circle touched a little more on how things have changed and where we can see Hipgnosis’ legacy today, but there’s only so much you can do in a single film.
Squaring the Circle truly is a music lover’s dream. It’s a lovingly crafted, if somewhat formulaic, documentary about the people who changed music without ever touching an instrument. Squaring the Circle offers as much insight into the art and music as it does into the friendship and creative collaboration between Powell and Thogerson.
Squaring the Circle is now playing at Sundance Film Festival London and will be released in cinemas on 14 July.