As promised, I want to give my review of the film Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman. First of all, if I had to give it a grade: solid B+. I’m a tough critic though, and I definitely recommend seeing the film.
I absolutely left the theater feeling awestruck and inspired and in love with architecture. And photography, of course. Shulman, for all intents and purposes, was essentially the father of architectural photography. He was the the first to recognize the importance of an environmental context for buildings, which so many modernist architects in California were striving to achieve, and he was the first to recognize the importance of real people in architectural images. In fact, one of the elements I liked most in this film was that Shulman, at 97 or 98, returns to talk with people who either still live in one of the houses he photographed (as in the case of the iconic Pierre Koenig house) or with the current owners who are trying to restore a house he originally photographed (as with the Kaufmann house). It was amazing to hear him relive what he was thinking about when he first saw these houses, however many years ago, and what those folks think about the houses now. Shulman worked with some of the most influential architects of the 20th century (Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry), but he also loved to “discover” new talent and helped to put Modernism into mainstream America.
So what didn’t I love about the film? Well, there were some interjections of animation that really detracted from the message of the film. I guess they were attempting to make the documentary less serious, but it was really inconsistent with the way the rest of the film was made. I think the interviews with Shulman were a great way to make the film less serious. He was very light-hearted and honest and quite the entertainer- you could tell he loved being a part of the documentary. It was like his victory lap, and I loved watching him guide us through it. I didn’t need a cartoon explanation of the history of Modernism, though I can appreciate what they were trying to do. In general, I don’t think the cinematography did justice to Shulman’s incredible still photographs, so that was kind of a let down as well. So there you have it- B+.
Has anyone else seen this film? What did you think? Am I being too harsh?