Just about everyone in Eric Bricker’s festschrift seems to love Julius Shulman, including (adorably) the unstoppable old gent himself. What’s not to like? Ninety-three years old at the time of filming, the great photographer of modernist architecture was still working (“What else is there?”), laying down the law and running around in red suspenders to bask in his celebrity. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Visual Acoustics shows off the stark beauty of flat-topped Southern California homes—with their pools and low couches designed by architectural titans from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry—and then shows how they’ve been re-interpreted and romanticized by Shulman. Though he dismissed contemporary Los Angeles as “a pile of junk,” the passionate early environmentalist believed in the integrity of things in their natural place—preferably, the desert. His pictures refresh the region even for those of us who live here. Enjoyable as it is, Bricker’s giddy hagiography could have used a little pushback, especially in the matter of Shulman’s airy dismissal of the postmodernism that, he claimed, forced him into “retirement.” Shulman died this summer, aged 98, doubtless sounding off as he went. If Visual Acoustics doesn’t make you envy his life and his legacy, you haven’t been paying attention.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 6, 2009