Sundance Review: Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) Chronicles Iconic Album Covers and the Studio That Designed Them

From master photographer and Control director Anton Corbijn comes his documentary debut, Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis). The film is set in the days when album-oriented rock music met artist-oriented rock album covers in the controlled chaos of the UK-based 1970s graphic design studio Hipgnosis. Artists from the studio worked on iconic album covers for the likes of Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here), Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney, up through the earliest Peter Gabriel albums.

The two primary designers who ran the studio were Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell, one of whom was very difficult to get along with and the other was there to smooth out the edges. But together, they brought in the business, almost to the point where they couldn’t keep up. Their fees also went up as their work was more in demand. Corbijn takes us through an album-by-album approach, and has the key players responsible for creating each one discuss their thought process in its design. But as they do that, they also move forward the history of the Hipgnosis agency, which had several good years followed by its complete collapse as their expensive designs and squabbling founders spelled the end.

The story of Hipgnosis is told with humor, pathos, and mountains of creativity, along with willing artists wanting to take a chance on young, hungry designers. The ideas and visions on display are impressive, but I especially like the portion of the doc when it’s revealed that rejected ideas for one artist often made their way into the pile of ideas for another, with some being recycled a dozen or more times. The egos and talent were almost evenly matched, so you can see both why they were so successful and why they fell apart after a passionate run. It’s a beautifully made film, loaded with classic music and passion to spare.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

Join Our Newsletter today!