Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (Arthouse Films) (2008)

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Released 2-Dec-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Theatrical Trailer-(2.17)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 83:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Eric Bricker

Madman Entertainment
Starring Eric Bricker
Phil Ethington
Lisa Hughes
Jessica Hundley
Frances Anderton
Tom Ford
Frank O. Gehry
Dustin Hoffman
Recardo Legorreta
Kelly Lynch
Case Custom Packaging
RPI ? Music Charlie Campagna

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   Madman Entertainments Arthouse releases continues to impress, inform and inspire with the 19th iteration : Visual Acoustics The Modernism of Julius Shulman. Thankfully, Madman have released many of the documentaries from the American distributor Arthouse Films, but, equally thankfully, there are many left to go!

On its face the work of Julius Shulman - photographing architecture - seems to combine two artistic fields into the realm of the practical - in other words, it ceases to become "art". But persevere, for this film is a rare insight into a particular kind of artist who not only immortalized great buildings but provided inspiration for the next generation of architects.

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the film looks at the long life and career of Shulman which stretched from his first professional photograph in 1936 to his last shots, shortly before his death last year at the ripe old age of 98. Blending images from his life and insightful interviews with architects, critics and enthusiastic homeowners the film also introduces us to the impossibly old, impossibly spry Shulman. Bent over, walking stick permanently in his hand he has more vitality than some men half his age as well as a keen intellect and a wicked sense of humour - telling another aged contemporary interviewee that the director will shoot him from behind because he isn't that good looking!

Although the film gives a potted history of the development of American Modernism those without much foreknowledge may initially need to hang on to their hats. Fortunately the movie can be enjoyed equally by aficionados of modern architecture as well as those with a more general interest in art and artists.

Shulman's photographs, it transpired, were not just artworks in themselves, splendid renderings of modern design, but through publication in magazines became the style guide for the adventurous and artistic American and the torch bearer for Southern Californian Modernism. In the era before mass travel a building could only speak to the limited few who came to see it. With Shulman's photographs the World opened up. Working with the greatest architects of his age - Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Frank Gehry and, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright he set the standard for photographing and interpreting these structures. Iconic shots, like Case Study 22 of a fiercely modern house perched overlooking the Hollywood Hills, and the ceiling of the Guggenheim Museum (which features as the local DVD cover with Case Study 22 being on the US release), are superb examples of his skill at finding the right angle to convey volumes. The visual acoustics of the title is the phrase Shulman uses to describe capturing the spirit of the building.

Shulman photographs many buildings around the World but will forever be associated with Southern California Modernism. Some of the most interesting moments in the film are where Shulman's photographs (including unexposed reels!) have been used to reconstruct classic houses that have been extended and modified by subsequent owners.

Visual Acoustics The Modernism of Julius Shulman is a fascinating watch which , like all good documentaries, illuminates a subject that many may not have known existed.

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Transfer Quality


   Visual Acoustics The Modernism of Julius Shulman was shot on digital video at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and comes to DVD in a similar fashion. It is 16x9 enhanced.

The film consists of a combination of talking heads and historical footage as well as still images of Shulman's photographs. As might be expected, the modern material looks the best. Having said that, fans of the photographer and those who have bought other titles in the Arthouse Series will find nothing to complain about in this transfer. Flesh tones are accurate.

The colours are strong and stable and compression is minimal. This is due to the short length of the film even though it is all placed on a single layer DVD 5.

There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   Visual Acoustics The Modernism of Julius Shulman carries a Dolby Digital 2.0 soudtrack running at 224 Kb/s.

This track is perfectly suited to a film that consists almost entirely of interviews and dialogue. The voices can be heard clearly.

They are in audio sync.

The musical score is by Charlie Campagna who also doubled as sound editor. It is minimal and modern.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer (2.17)

The only extra is the theatrical trailer which gives a good account of the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  The Region 1 version of this title appears identical although it it not clear whether it has the trailer.


    Visual Acoustics The Modernism of Julius Shulman is a valuable portrait of a man who laboured for 70 years in pursuit of good design and the perfect picture. Though retiring briefly when Post-Modernism started to hold sway, he helped bring the clean lines of Modernism back into focus. The film looks and sounds fine.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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