"Visual Acoustics" DVD Review
June 03, 2010 by Zach Demeter
Julius Shulman was, as many experts agree, the world's greatest architectural photographer. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, "Visual Acoustics" celebrates the life and career of this brilliant artist and highlights not only the iconic images that made the man, but the magnetic character behind those images. This fascinating portrait is a testament both to the evolution of modern architecture and to the joyful gentleman who captured its indelible images.
Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, VISUAL ACOUSTICS celebrates the life and career of Julius Shulman, the world’s greatest architectural photographer, whose images brought modern architecture to the American mainstream. Shulman captured the work of nearly every major modern and progressive architect since the 1930s including Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Frank Gehry. His images epitomized the singular beauty of Southern California’s modernist movement and brought its iconic structures to the attention of the general public. This unique film is both a testament to the evolution of modern architecture and a joyful portrait of the magnetic, whip-smart gentleman who chronicled it with his unforgettable images.
Much like reviewing the multi-disc release of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s works, trying to review a documentary about a man who took pictures for a living seems incredibly futile as there is little to say about the production other than that it seems to do the man justice. I’ve no knowledge of Julius Shulman other than what the documentary here gives me and while it’s a solid history lesson I’ve no idea how objective it is or really what the documentary hopes to get across other than the basics of his life and how his works influenced others. Not that I’m belittling the man or his work, mind you, but where do you go exactly with a eighty-three minute story about a photographer?
The documentary is essentially just the life story of Shulman, who we see in the preface of the film at the ripe old age of 97; from there we go on a chronological journey through his life and we touch upon elements from the 1920s all the way up to where he lives now (and in quite a lustrous garden to boot). While we travel through Shulman’s life we’re accompanied by narrator Dustin Hoffman who brings his usual smile-filled-voice to the table, always leaving us with a sense that more is to come in this documentary. Which his apt to say, considering it has such a large span of time to fill as well as a series of tumultuous times in his life.
Despite knowing next to nothing (ok, absolutely nothing) about architecture and the various modern/post-modern/modern phase it has apparently gone through over the years, this documentary not only portrays the rise and fall of those movements but also Shulman’s involvement in them as well. It’s definitely a more specific and focused documentary as it doesn’t seem nearly as accessible as New Video’s past releases, but those who know of Shulman already are much more apt an audience for this film than I was. Having said that I still enjoyed it, but unless you know the subject matter already (even just briefly) you’re more likely to be satiated with a Rental. Plus it’s not exactly something you’re going to pop into your player and watch repeatedly.
docuramafilms brings Visual Acoustics to DVD in a standard (and clear!) amaray DVD case. Nothing overly special about the presentation of the documentary here—no fancy exterior cardboard slipcase and the cover itself looks like a rather laid back BBC special documentary release more than anything. Video and audio is a solid presentation overall and about what you’d expect from a modern documentary.
Extras are limited but include:
Audio Commentary with Director Eric Bricker
Deleted Scenes (4 minutes)
Extra Footage (21 minutes)
Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes)
The full-length commentary actually helped me appreciate the documentary a lot more than just going into it cold…I kind of wish I’d watched the commentary first, as it explained not only what the director wanted to do with it but also talked more about Shulman as an individual as well. It should be noted that the commentary is listed under the “Audio Setup” menu rather than the “Extras” menu, so if you’re at a loss as to where it is, poke around the menus a bit. The extra footage/deleted scenes is a nice addition as well, but don’t really add too much to the documentary.
Overall a release that’s worth a Rental
Visual Acoustics is now available on DVD.