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Heston in the police chief's office, with letterpress-style poster on the wall and Helvetica vinyl on the window.

Historical Futurism

Class Divides

By the year 2022, the population of New York City has skyrocketed to 40 million, 20 million of whom are unemployed. Despite greenhouse gasses and a “constant heatwave” decimating plant and animal life, humans have survived the apocalypse thanks to the Soylent Corporation.

In Soylent Green (1973), everyone is rationed a supply of Soylent Yellow, Soylent Orange, and—their latest creation—Soylent Green. The first two are made from soybeans, while the “miracle food” Soylent Green is made from “high-energy plankton.”

And by “plankton,” of course, I mean “people.” Detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) discovers this horrifying fact at the end of a grinding investigation into the murder of William R. Simonson, a Soylent Corporation board member. Along the way, Thorn eats the first real meal of his life—complete with beef stew—and falls in love with Simonson’s concubine, Shirl.

Soylent Green portrays stark class lines, from the homeless—who cover stairways so thoroughly that Thorn needs to leap to get into or out of his apartment—to the richest, like Simonson, who can afford hot showers, fresh beef, and liquor. The filmmakers use type along these class lines, too. Only those with resources use type: The police, Soylent Corporation, Simonson, and the governor’s office. Everyone else uses hand-painted signs.

Merchants paint signs by hand, while Soylent Corporation uses Leroy-style laminate lettering and Microgramma.

More than simply dividing type among the haves and have-nots, the movie uses a broad palette to reflect different tastes.

The Soylent Corporation, for example, uses lowercase Clarendon Bold for signage, Optima Medium for classified book covers, and a combination of Microgramma (with some Bs in a heavier weight). For a control panel, there is some mid-century engraved letters on Formica, in the style of Leroy lettering. It’s an anachronistic mix, but it’s the future, so who knows what fonts will be revived?

Elsewhere, we see Helvetica Ultra Compressed and some industrial styles that look like DIN, although I’m not sure Hollywood knew of the Deutsche Industrie Normen in the 70s.

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