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‘Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)’ Review: Indelible Images by Design

The album cover for Pink Floyd’s “Animals” is a collage that shows a pig flying over Battersea Power Station in London. Originally, it was intended to be a photograph, but controlling an inflatable pig at that height was not easy (in fact, it floated into an area where flights approach Heathrow Airport). Nor was it easy to have a man stand still after he had been set on fire, something that was done to create an image for the band’s preceding album, “Wish You Were Here.” Nor was arranging for a restless sheep to lounge on a psychiatrist’s couch in the Hawaiian surf — a photograph that ultimately constituted only a small inset on the original cover for the 10cc album “Look Hear?”

These are among the anecdotes shared in “Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis),” a documentary from Anton Corbijn (“Control”) on Hipgnosis, a British design studio that, over roughly 15 years starting in 1968, devised some of the strangest and most innovative art ever put on records. (The name is a portmanteau of “hip” and “gnostic” pronounced like “hypnosis.”)

“Squaring the Circle” has the feel of an official portrait. Aubrey Powell, known as Po, who founded Hipgnosis with Storm Thorgerson, holds the center of gravity among the interviewees, who include many of his friends and colleagues. The visuals — sharp black-and-white present-day footage; lots of photographs from Hipgnosis’s heyday — are predictably striking.

Structurally, this movie defaults to recounting the genesis of one idea and collaboration after another. (“When you get a call from a Beatle, it was a bit like a call from God,” Powell says of Paul McCartney.) “Squaring the Circle” is slick and enjoyable enough, but it is also, like the company it chronicles, something of a boutique item, and the reminiscences grow faintly monotonous after a while.

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. In theaters.

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