Visual Acoustics
If you lived here, you’d be home by now.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2010
Director: Eric Bricker
Narrator: Dustin Hoffman

Architecture buffs and even the average person can name a number of well known architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry. But how many architectural photographers can you name?

Well, if you cheated and read the full title above, you’d be able to name at least one. In “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman”, director Eric Bricker looks at how Shulman’s work shaped the way in which the world looked at architecture and specifically that of the modernist era.

The film provides a introduction to the terminology and concepts involved, with the aid of narrator Dustin Hoffman, and not only exhibits many of Shulman’s photographs but also examines the methodology and passion behind his work.

Shulman had a hand in so many of the most iconic houses in post WWII American history (like those of the Case Study series, commissioned to envision the future of homes now that the war had ended) … which is almost a circular statement seeing as they are iconic because he photographed them. As a movie buff, I especially enjoyed seeing a number of homes that are often featured in TV and film; Perhaps the most famous of which would be Case Study house 22, which some may recognize as De Niro’s in Michael Mann’s 1995 crime epic “Heat” or from a number of other films.

Shulman felt strongly about what elements should be incorporated into building a structure, as evident by how the late 60′s rise of post-modernism pushed him out of the business. He thought architects were designing things in odd manners for the sake of being odd, rather than as a natural progression of the site and its materials.

The majority of the documentary focuses on Shulman’s work in L.A. and Palm Springs. Residents and frequent visitors to those locales may recognize a number of the homes on display and it’s a treat to see the homes in more than just a static photograph (no matter how beautiful that picture). For sure, because of its visual nature, this is a film best seen on a nice big screen; many of the photos only take up a portion of the screen and it’s nice to be able to see as much detail as possible.

On the critical side of things, It might have been beneficial for the audience to get an interview with someone who favored the post-modernist movement to create some contrast and at times Hoffman’s voice drones on a bit too mechanically. However, the film is obviously a bit of a love letter to Shulman’s work and to him as a person and should be viewed as such. This isn’t a message documentary or one that floods the credits with websites and phone numbers one can call to make a difference. No, this is a pleasant journey through a remarkable career filled with beautiful images and entertaining stories.

“Visual Acoustics” does a good job of blending concepts with heart and anyone interested in architecture or the effect a photographer can have on the industry will find a lot to like here and so I’ll give the film a 3.5 out of 5. Julius Shulman’s work most definitely shaped he way in which people looked at architecture and Eric Bricker’s film is the perfect way to ring in a new year of documentaries.