FILM REVIEW: Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis (Dogwoof 2022))

Squaring The Circle is the fascinating story of the artists behind some of the most iconic album covers in history.

Not only are Hipgnosis the best known album design company, they are the only one I can name. Storm Thorgerson, co-founder, is as much of a rockstar as some of the bands he designed for – which included Pink Floyd,  Genesis, Led  Zeppelin,  Black Sabbath, T Rex, 10CC, Wings, Rory Gallagher and anybody who was anybody in the sixties and seventies.

Sadly, Storm is no longer with us, but this film features interviews with many of the big name survivors from that period, including co-founder Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, Dave Gilmore, Nick Mason, Robert Plant, Roger Dean, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel plus archive interviews with Storm and others. Noel Gallagher features in his capacity of a student of pop culture,  but he never actually worked with them.

Their big break came through working with Pink Floyd, both album covers and posters. Many of those covers became iconic and, in some circumstances, ⁰more famous than the albums they were covers for. The ‘cow cover’ for Atom Heart Mother being a classic example.

We are talking about a time before Photoshop, or even Windows. The Nice album Elegy involved taking sixty footballs out to the Sahara Desert to photograph.  These days you wouldn’t need to move away from your desktop to get a similar result. For Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, they literally set fire to a bloke to take photographs of him and had a bloke do a handstand in a lake long enough for the ripples to dissipate. They inflated a giant pig and had it fly above Battersea Power Station for the album ‘Animals’. It broke free and resulted in Heathrow Airport being shut down. They went to Brazil to photograph a sheep on a psychiatrists couch on a beach – for a Welsh record label! (Wales has plenty of sheep and beaches!) As Robert Plant comments, “they weren’t cheap”.

The bloke on fire wished he wasn’t there

As is often the way with creative geniuses, there were arguments and artistic differences eventually they spectacularly imploded into an inglorious mess.

The film is the work of Anton Corbjin, and is beautifully shot, with all the interviews in black and white, presumably to emphasise the glorious colour of the albums. It harks back to a time when album covers were literally works of art – an art form that was almost lost when MP3s and streaming threatened to confine vinyl to the dustbin. Thankfully vinyl is back but, with the arrival of Photoshop,  we will never see the extravagance of Hipgnosis again. Or will we?