As part of a series called "Designing America", the Museum of Fine Arts has brought back Judith Pearlman's superb documentary BAUHAUS IN AMERICA. Pearlman's film is an engrossing and informative look at the Bauhaus revolution in architecture and its stars, once they immigrated to the United States. The film is tinged with, but doesn't wallow in, nostalgia for the hothouse of creativity that was born in Weimar in 1919. BAUHAUS IN AMERICA is expertly edited and handsomely filmed, with attention paid to the aesthetics of the backdrops for its articulate talking heads.
In its most vital period, the Bauhaus foresaw a union of the imagination with industrial techniques. Art was to be united with craft, and craft with industrial production.
Quality and quantity were equally important for everyday objects such as vases or lamps or chairs, and for architecture, too.
Arguably, the most lasting Bauhaus impact here was on the education of professional artists and designers almost every art school in the country still relies on a version of the famous "Foundation Course" pioneered at the Bauhaus; likewise, the education of architects was profoundly transformed.
The Bauhaus émigrés and the Americans they taught had a great deal to do with bringing this country kicking and screaming into the 20th century. As a number of interviewees state in the film, the principal challenge remains to turn architecture to humane ends to build neighborhoods that embody a "people society" rather than a "thing society."
LE DEVOIR (Montreal Festival)
The most interesting film on architecture in the Festival is, without a doubt, BAUHAUS IN AMERICA. It is classical in form, but with a concise montage in which every image, every statement by every witness, conveys the essentials. Whether one thinks of them as prodigal sons or ingrates, everyone in America was involved with Gropius and Mies van der Rohe.
The lineup in the film is astounding, and the last part of the film is particularly admirable. Because Judith Pearlman has successfully recreated the Utopian ambience of the early Bauhaus, we are sympathetic to it. But, because the Bauhaus also has its virulent critics, when the time comes for a final accounting, she really goes to the heart of the matter. In short, an encyclopedic work, deeply probing, but limpid and very beautiful (I loved Tom Wolfe's Martian head against a lemon-yellow background!)
The film's celebrated eyewitnesses often disagree, but lead a definitive and very personal tour of America's visual landscape in the 20th century. A must for curators and programmers!
LIBRARY JOURNAL (Featured)
Fluid, perceptive, and thought-provoking, this video is an excellent eyewitness to the riches settled upon the United States by the Bauhaus.
VIDEO LIBRARIAN *** (Recommended)
Given the enormous impact of Mies, Gropius, and their disciples on the look and shape of the American post-World War II urban landscape, on 20th-century architectural language, and on style in general, there's a substantial amount of useful and fascinating information to be had here.
JOURNAL OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIANS
BAUHAUS IN AMERICA addresses multiple audiences without being either superficial or pedantic, dealing with the relationship of past to present through a narrative "Story Theater" structure. Rather than taking an overtly ideological stance, the film offers moving and memorable firsthand accounts of events and glimpses of people; they reveal not only the character of the subject, but much about the speakers (themselves). Like a good teacher, it listens. While providing a thorough introduction to its subject, the film traces the Bauhaus' influence through such a wide range of people that even the most informed viewer will discover much of interest.
BALLAST QUARTERLY REVIEW (Highly recommended)
The beginning moments of this documentary are among its most powerful: it opens with excerpts from interviews with Americans who were students at the Bauhaus in Berlin in April, 1933, when the school was closed down by the Nazis. Among the highlights are segments from two dozen interviews with students and associates. Much of the film is devoted to comments by critics of Mies, Gropius, and the validity of Modernism in urban architecture. Produced and directed by Judith Pearlman (THE IDEA OF NORTH), this is a unique, fascinating film. A montage of snapshots and family tapes for American artists, architects, and designers, it would be a provocative supplement to courses on the history of those disciplines.
JOURNAL OF ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION
BAUHAUS IN AMERICA is a visually stunning documentary that explores the impact of the Bauhaus on American architecture and design from the 1930's to almost the present day. Far more subtly, the film also considers the impact of American culture and technology on the émigrés and on their work here. Pearlman has interwoven a wonderful array of historic stills and film clips along with artful filming of her own that illustrates the story of the Bauhaus and its legacy as no book ever has or could. Though it reflects on an historic subject, it is a timely film and brings to the record a group of articulate architects and designers who will not always be around to share their Bauhaus experience with us.
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Bauhaus in America copyright © Cliofilm 1995