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“Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)” Puts the Art Back into Album Art


PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: Anton Corbijn attends the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Squaring The Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)” Premiere at Egyptian Theatre on January 20, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

By Bailey Pennick

“Vinyl is the poor man’s art collection.”

It’s hard not to immediately picture your own record collection, an alphabetized gallery sitting in your living room, when you hear Noel Gallagher wax poetic about the importance of album art. The former Oasis lead guitarist/songwriter is just one of many high-profile musicians interviewed within Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis), Anton Corbijn’s debut feature documentary. 

Unlike most subjects who were asked about their experiences working with the design studio simply known as Hipgnosis, Gallagher speaks passionately about the LP covers they created merely as a fan. His excitement about the creative duo of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell is infectious and especially arresting considering Corbijn’s simple and stark black-and-white cinematography. The monochrome look forces you to truly listen to the words of the interviewees and, when the final art is shown in bursts of psychedelic colors, to truly appreciate the visuals that defined rock music.

Arresting black-and-white images of legendary rock stars aren’t a surprise considering Corbijn’s career originally took off as a music photographer known for his monochrome style, but his reasoning for continuing that visual identity for Squaring the Circle is more practical than you might imagine. “The problem was that this is my first doc,” the multitalented artist explains at his Sundance Fest screening. “[For documentaries like this] you rely a lot on existing footage, and it doesn’t always look the way you want it to look, so I made it all black and white to make it uniform.”

Corbijn’s measured pacing and design leads Hipgnosis novices down the path of their origin story and legendary career, but what makes Squaring the Circle so exciting is that none of us really are novices to the fantastical work of Thorgerson and Powell — their images are already burned into our brains. Every time you put on a Pink Floyd record, try to recognize everyone in the Wings’ Band on the Run cover, or stare at Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy LP for hours for… no reason… you are engaging with Hipgnosis.

“They were in the best era for album sleeves,” Corbijn says about the prolific design studio. “There was a lot of money and the artists had a lot of say [on creative directions] there.” It appears the artists who worked with Thorgerson and Powell still have a lot to say about their collaborations, as Squaring the Circle features intimate interviews with Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and more.

Each time a musical legend first appears on the screen in the film, viewers gasp with delight, but the Dutch director wasn’t surprised that all these artists wanted to talk: “The admiration for Hipgnosis is so big that there are people who don’t even talk to each other anymore are willing to be in the film. I can’t think of many films that have both Roger Waters and David Gilmour in them — or even Plant and Page for that matter!”

It all comes back to the fact that these two Englishmen helped musicians express themselves, pushed the boundaries of commercial art, and influenced multiple generations of artists and music lovers to come. By the time the film ends, Gallagher’s palpable love for Hipgnosis is ours as well, but there’s still one thing to figure out. When Corbijn asks him why he never hired the duo to make one of Oasis’ LP covers, Gallagher, as always, keeps it incredibly real: “I couldn’t afford them!”

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