Time Out New York Project: Issue #732, October 8-14, 2009
Dir. Eric Bricker. 2008. N/R. 83mins. Documentary.
Eric Bricker’s documentary is as clean-edged and polished as its subject, photographer Julius Shulman, who spent a good many years lensing the architecture and surrounding landscapes of Southern California. Draftsmen like Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright did the building; Shulman was the one who preserved their work for history and, in the process, built his own distinct portfolio.
His images are striking—typically using one-point perspective, so that each edifice appears to extend into infinity—and particularly commanding in their play of light and shadow. Cinephiles should be especially interested in the interlude in which cinematographer Dante Spinotti talks about the influence these pictures have had on his frequent collaborator Michael Mann. Indeed, Mann’s crime thriller Heat clearly drew inspiration from Shulman’s oft-reprinted photograph Case Study House #22, with its shimmering background cityscapes and near-limitless depth of field.
The artist, sad to say, is not as interesting as his art. That isn’t really Shulman’s fault: Despite what appears to have been unrestricted access, Bricker never probes that far into his subject’s life. A first wife is given a cursory mention, and Shulman’s daughter talks tantalizingly, yet briefly, of her father’s my-way-or-the-highway stubbornness. But any discord, here and elsewhere, is quickly glossed over. Visual Acoustics goes out of its way to remain as kindly and pleasing as Shulman himself.—Keith Uhlich