Woody Allen and the Windsor font
Is This Typeface Fetish Or Brand Identity?
—By Cristian Kit Paul
In 2007 I started exploring the thesis that between '75 and '77 Woody Allen begun building his movie brand consciously. The exploration turned into investigative journalism, led to a couple of preparatory texts and then the final post on my blog that miraculously attracted a comment from the American typographer who was behind Woody Allen's choice. Ah, the internet!
Why publish this now? Two reasons. Firstly, Woody Allen's To Rome with Love hit the screens recently. Consequently the list had to be updated, which I did (the new title is compliant, of course). Secondly, Kitlog.com turns nine. My blog is more of a photoblog these days, entering its 10 year of existence. Two good reasons—so, enjoy.
White Windsor typeface on black
In a time when movie titles become more and more of a clueless “me too!” affair, Woody Allen's unique (and relentless) typographic style is entirely praiseworthy. His white type on black opening titles rolling on old jazz or classical music became a part of Woody Allen brand, just like his neurotic dialogues and “his black-rimmed glasses” 1 are.
Windsor is an unusual design cut by Stephenson Blake 2 in 1905. Windsor is a bold face with heavy rounded serifs and strong diagonal stress. Capitals M and W are widely splayed, P and R have very large upper bowls. The Lowercase a, h, m and n of the Windsor font have angled right hand stems, e has an angled cross-stroke. The overall effect is one of friendliness and warmth. Use the Windsor font in advertising, on posters and for general display work.
Ed Benguiat, the "printer"
How did Woody Allen chose this typeface? In a previous iteration of this post, the mystery of Woody Allen's typeface of choice was solved by this amazing story posted by Randy J. Hunt in the comments. He said:
I'm currently taking a typeface design course with Ed Benguiat, and just last night he described a time when he would have breakfast at the same New Jersey diner every morning. Among the other that would dine there was Woody Allen. On one occasion, referring to Benguiat as a “printer,” Allen asked him what a good typeface was. Benguiat had an affinity for Windsor and suggested it to him that morning. He's used it in every film since.
This New Jersey breakfast with Ed Benguiat must've happened sometime between '75 and '77, because in Love and Death (1975) the titles (although already white type on black background) are set in another serif, while in Annie Hall (1977) Windsor is there, in the largest size of all his titles.
It is also interesting that after Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen betrays Windsor—Interiors (1978) titles are set in a News Gothic-ish sans serif—only to return to it for Mahattan in 1979.
Most amazing thing happened. Somehow Mr. Benguiat found about my post and he wrote to confirm the story and shed further light on this [comment №50]:
All very nicely worded and all technically correct. Thank you all for the factual feedback on Mr. Allen. One other person needs a little thanks for his opinion on the use of Windsor was Corbet Monica, who was at the dinner every Sat & Sun. He played in the movie Broadway Danny Rose.
Down to business
Here's Woody Allen's filmography as a director, as referenced by IMDB, non-compliant titles marked as such:
3. Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971, IMDb), TV, title needed but most probably non-compliant;
Truth is, correlation doesn't mean causation. All we know is that Woody Allen demonstrates for over 30 years what brand consistency is and we can't be sure he did this programmatically, in order to build a visual identity and brand his products, or if this is just a Kubrick-eque case of typographic fetish.3
But then again—why not both?
1 From Manhattan (1979) opening monologue: “Chapter one. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. —I love this. —New York was his town and it always would be.”
2 Wikipedia page on Windsor specifies: “Windsor is an old style serif display typeface created in 1905 by Eleisha Pechey. Besides the basic font it is also available in two other styles, Light and Roman. Various foundries introduced minor variations so that today there are versions by Linotype, Elsner+Flake, URW+++, Mecanorma and Stephenson Blake.”