There sure have been a lot of storms this week. My power went out twice. While it would make sense for me to recommend some books to read during the next deluge that is expected to start Sunday, when it’s storming all I want to do is curl up on the sofa and watch a good movie. With this in mind, I am recommending three documentaries, all of which I have seen more than half a dozen times. These films are informative, sure, but mostly they are lovely to look at and transporting, unusual traits for documentaries.
Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2008) focuses on the life and work of architectural photographer Julius Shulman. When I first heard about this film, Shulman’s name was unknown to me, so you can imagine how surprised I was to find that I had seen his work my whole life. Try this: Conjure any amazing picture of a mid-century house or building that you can remember. Okay, Julius Shulman took that picture. Well into his 90s, Shulman reminisces about the architects that influenced him. He talks about his start with Frank Lloyd Wright and there is even a scene where an uncustomarily humble Frank Gehry credits Shulman for helping launch his career. The film is rich with architectural history and beautiful, mostly black and white shots of Shulman’s work. Really though, this film is just modernist porn.
Objectified (2009) by Gary Hustwit takes a close and surprisingly loving look at industrial design. Throughout the film, we are shown everyday objects and then follow the origin of that design. Objectified features rock stars of the industry, like Dieter Rams of Braun, the designers at Smart Design, and Jonathan Ive of Apple. In fact there’s a little Apple love letter embedded in the film. Words like “extrusion” and “machined parts” somehow come together to paint a warm portrait of the tools we use everyday. Hustwit has a knack for illuminating items that are so common they are invisible. If you don’t believe me, be sure to watch his first film, Helvetica (2007).
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960) is less like a traditional documentary or concert film, and more like a home movie. Well, a home move if your dad is Bert Stern, sixties stylin’ photographer to the stars. Sort of the Tom Ford of his day. He’s probably best known for Marilyn Monroe’s final photo shoot. Jazz on a Summer’s day documents the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and is filled with all your favorite fifties performers. Dinah Washington, Thelonious Monk, Mahalia Jackson, and Louis Armstrong. By ’58 most Americans were snuggled into the bosom of cool jazz. The Newport Jazz Festival certainly demonstrated this with bands like the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, but much of the music in the film is New Orleans style jazz. This is purportedly a jazz film—and it is, I’m not denying that. But even though this was filmed with high-fidelity sound (unusual for the time), the magic comes in the visual. Lush, long shots of the audience. Hot, sweaty, and well-dressed in their 1958s way. Suit jackets, red lipstick, ties, pumps, and cigarettes. Smoking never looked as sexy. While the music is excellent and the reason I watched this film the first half-dozen times or so, it is Sterns imagery that sets Jazz on a Summer’s Day apart. The last time I had a party I ran this sensual film without sound and provided my own soundtrack. This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The next time you’ve had a stressful day at work. Pour yourself an iced tea or a glass of wine, watch this film, and feel your everyday worries slip away.
All three of these movies are readily available streaming though Netflix, on Apple’s iTunes, and whatnot. When you’re rained in next week, believe me, these films will set you free.
Last Saturday Lauren and I checked out Gary Hustwit’s latest film Objectified at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I have to be honest, I loved Hustwit’s previous documentary Helvetica, so I was really excited to see a new design documentary. The film asks the viewer to not only confront the idea that all of the objects we encounter in our day to day lives are designed but also who designed these objects. The all star cast includes Chris Bangle, Davin Stowell, Dan Formosa , Dieter Rams, Nato Fukusawa, Jonathan Ive, Mac Newson, Rob Walker, and the entertaining Karim Rashid.
I enjoyed Dieter Rams’, the former design director for Braun, list of what makes a good design. In essence , he believes a good design requires the least amount of designing. He names apple as one of the companies with the best design. As much as I enjoy apple products I wish the film felt less like an apple ad and investigated some more aspects of their designs. Like why are their computers designed in a way that makes them difficult to take apart and reassemble without destroying?
I felt like the movie was really easy to consume. Everything is very agreeable, even the geek chic soundtrack. I wished they went a little more into the topic of consumerism, though. In the end all of the designers are designing for a pay check, and this was touched upon, but I wanted to see a bit more of the marketing of goods that most people already own.
John Mahoney, summed up Hustwit’s strengths in his post on Gizmodo, saying “But what’s great (and where Helvetica also ruled) is that Hustwit is a master interviewer. He gets his subjects to speak about what can be a jargon and marketing-voodoo laden industry with total clarity and comfort that folks that didn’t go to design school can comprehend freely. Ive, holding up the single aluminum block from which a unibody MacBook is hewn while trying to control his massive biceps, speaks about how designers are ultimately obsessive, borderline neurotic people. He can’t look at an object anywhere without seeing the multiple layers of intent involved-who designed it, who it’s designed for, what it does well. To Ive, it’s an illness.”
When Lauren and I walked out of the theater we both questioned what Hustwit would come up with next. According to the documentary blog, Hustwit has said that this film is in fact the second part of to a “design trilogy”. I am excited to see what he has in store next, but doubt it could top Helvetica.
Check out Hustwit’s twitter page to see where the film will be screening.
Objectified will be playing at the Gene Siskel at the Following times. For more info check out their website.
Fri. and Mon.-Thu. at 6:00 pm, 7:30 pm, and 9:00 pm;
Sat. at 3:00 pm, 4:30 pm, 6:00 pm, 7:30 pm, and 9:00 pm;
Sun. at 3:00 pm, 4:30 pm, and 6:00 pm
In this week’s roundup we look at a video of crash test dummies (do you remember that horrible band? I know Richard does), the Venice Biennale, and some Nazi zombies, just to name a few. I don’t know about you guys but I’m going on vacay next week. Anyone know anything good to do in Denver?
- OMG. Død snø looks like it’s going to kick some serious Nazi zombie ass.
- Art Observed has a great links roundup to get you (not) in the mood for the Venice Biennale.
- Former BAS guest Francesco Bonami is guest blogging over at The Moment.
- Old GM crash test video from the 60′s are positively terrifying. I laughed so hard at work I think I scared my coworkers and am thankful I grew up in the 80s. Seat belts people.
- Chicago Tribune had a papercraft tribute to Sen. Roland Burris.
- Google introduced the Wave. I watched an hour of the hour and twenty min demo and then asked myself why I had watched it for that long.
- This week I hit a new personal low when I Google image searched “ Maru the Cat” and found an image of myself on the second page.
- Everyone went crazy for The Beatles Rockband intro. And yes I think it does live up to all the hype. Well at least the first half, I am not a big Yellow Submarine fan.
- The Seeker told us about James Felix McKenney’s AUTOMATONS.
- Gary Hustwit’s new Documentary Objectified starts tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
- Seriously WTF?!