Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman

New Video Group, 2010, Not Rated

I was fortunate enough to meet Julius Shulman, the

architectural photographer whose luminously otherworldly black-and-white work chronicling the buildings of Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Richard Schindler and other Southern California Modernists did as much to make their work accepted as art as their buildings, themselves. His own house was on a Modernist Los Angeles tour and he sat at a table, outside the entrance, cheerfully and spryly welcoming visitors and signing copies of his books and calendars. He was then in his late nineties (he died in 2009 at age 98) and, after giving up architectural photography when the Post-Modernism he hated came into vogue, had lived to see Modernism and his own reputation make a comeback. In very old age, he had become a Rock star. Visual Acoustics , a documentary beautifully and artfully made by Eric Bricker, shows the delighted, sweet way that Shulman welcomed that fame in his last years, and even shows him working, with an assistant, on a few final valedictory projects. But the real meat — or, more appropriately, bricks-and-mortar — of the film is hearing Shulman, as well as experts on architecture and photography, discuss how his extraordinary career developed part and parcel with the achievements of those building the great mid-century Modernist homes. The section on how Shulman staged and lit his most famous image, the 1960 photograph of Pierre Koenig’s “Case Study House No. 22,” is especially illuminating — literally. Models sit and relax inside the glass-sided house perched atop a hillside but seemingly floating in space, as “city of light” Los Angeles sparkles below. The filmmaker has Shulman visit the owners of the home today to reminisce. In fact, Shulman’s meetings with the few surviving mid-century Modernist architects (and their homeowners) are all very moving — a summit of pioneers looking back with pride. Grade: B-plus
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