Monday, July 5, 2010

DVDebut--VISUAL ACOUSTICS: The Modernism of Julius Shulman tackles photography, architecture and California

TrustMovies knew nothing about Julius Shulman, whose "modernism" heads the subtitle of a documentary that has recently appeared on DVD. As to "visual acoustics" (the title of the film), even after watching this 83-minute work, he's not sure what that odd juxtaposition of "vision" and "sound" really means. Irony? Perhaps.

No matter. VISUAL ACOUSTICS: The Modernism of Julius Shulman proves one of the most immediately captivating and educational documentaries of the year (or two: the film was made in 2008). Mr. Shulman, it turns out, may just be the world's pre-eminent photographer of modern architecture of the past century. Or was: this great photographer died last year at the age of 99; though he seems relatively fit and exceedingly charming in this film, he lived only into the year following its completion.

Directed and co-written by Eric Bricker, shown at left (the other writers are Phil Ethington, Lisa Hughes and Jessica Hundley), the movie is among the most effortlessly warm and friendly documentaries I can recall, which is all the more surprising because it deals with photography and with modern architecture -- the latter often on the cold end of the spectrum. Yet Mr Shulman and his lovely daughter so warm  the film by their presence and prove such charming hosts that we're immediately pulled into both the movie and the subject that Shulman loves best.

The man simply adores modern architecture, as proven by photo after photo offered in this film. As is pointed out early on, most people will never visit these homes in person, but thousands more will be able to see them via photos.  And Shulman's are the best. 
His daughter speaks of her father's "curiosity and optimism," which would appear to be a splendid combination for approaching the world and creating beauty out of it.  Unerring taste also figures into this man's profile; he certainly had an eye for what would last.
Visual Acoustics acquaints us with modern architecture and its architects, California living and the art of photography -- and it's like a fabulous crash course in all of these.  Yet the filmmakers and their subject and interviewees make it seem utterly off-the-cuff and caught on the run.  Again, it's all part of the movie's charm. 
I suspect viewers will leave this documentary feeling a genuine appreciation for modern architecture, particularly that of mid-century America from the 40s to the 60s, all before the advent of post-modernism -- a style that Shulman seems to loathe (and with good reason, according to the photos of it included here).
The movie ends with Shulman (above) and his "take" on Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles -- a building the photographer evidently did not like the idea for but had since grown to love.  As the movie proceeds, we see less and less of those amazing homes.  By the final half hour, if the film has become mostly a Shulman paean (that's him again, below, in the 70s), at least it's to a guy who deserves one.
You can purchase VISUAL ACOUSTICS: The Modernism of Julius Shulman at the film's web site (click the link and then click "STORE") or rent it from Netflix.  (I streamed it from Netflix via a new Samsung Blu-ray machine and found the hi-def picture quality pretty extraordinary.)

All photos are from the film itself, except that of director Bricker, 
which comes courtesy of

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