Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman

The Architecture and Design Film Festival runs Thursday through Monday, May 5 through 9, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, and the Wit Hotel, 201 N. State. Tickets are $10, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members. Reviews of selected films follow; for a complete schedule see

Contemporary Days: The Designs of Lucienne and Robin Day Married for more than 50 years, British designers Robin and Lucienne Day combined practical insight with the imagination of great artists: Robin’s sleek and sturdy furniture, made from sparse materials, drew inspiration from his experience living on rations during World War II, and Lucienne’s textiles found a popular function for the innovations of modernist painting. For this 2010 documentary, director Murray Grigor dutifully relays the facts of their careers but conveys neither their passion nor the suggestiveness of their work; the movie is dry and deadly dull, pitched somewhere between Ken Burns and a PowerPoint presentation. Grigor’s sole stylistic contribution is to light Robin’s famous polypropylene stacking chairs as though they were centerfold models. —Ben Sachs 78 min. Sat 5/7, 3 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center, and Sun 5/8, 3:15 PM, the Wit Hotel

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? This Spanish documentary about British architect Norman Foster is more commendable for its subject matter than its execution, highlighting his achievements and forward-thinking ideas without considering any of them for more than a few minutes. Directors Norberto López Amado and Carlos Carcas are more successful in presenting Foster’s brilliant, contradictory persona: born in a working-class neighborhood of Manchester, he went on to design some of the most expensive buildings in the world, and this dichotomy has produced a man at once self-aggrandizing and sincerely concerned with social utility. The movie is especially interesting when it considers Foster’s debt to Buckminster Fuller (among his more utopian impulses is a commitment to sustainable architecture) and to multiculturalism (as seen in his idiosyncratic design for the restored Reichstag in Berlin). Because this reduces most of Foster’s greatest work to postcard images, however, you’ll have to accept his genius on faith. —Ben Sachs 76 min. Thu 5/5, 8:15 and 8:30 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center; Thu 5/5, 8:45 PM, the Wit Hotel; and Mon 5/9, 8:15 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman Julius Shulman photographed modernist architecture from 1936 into the new century, especially the houses of southern California, and some of his images have been called more beautiful than their subjects. A “master at shifting planes around,” Shulman brought these buildings’ rectilinear forms to life by emphasizing their receding lines and at times juxtaposing them with California’s curving mountain ranges. His work buoyed some architects’ careers and has been used to restore much-altered classics. This documentary tells this story reasonably well, though one might question whether director Eric Bricker’s jazzy montages, collages, and rapid camera movements are appropriate to the contemplation of still photographs. —Fred Camper 84 min. Fri 5/6, 9:15 PM, the Wit Hotel, and Sun 5/8, 6:45 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center