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Schindler's Houses 

It's good to be home

Wednesday, Oct 10 2007
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German experimental filmmaker Heinz Emigholz’s latest film in his ongoing “Architecture as Autobiography” series surveys a selection of buildings designed by the Viennese architect Rudolph M. Schindler, who came to Los Angeles in 1920 and did his most important work here. These “houses” are mostly single-family residences located in neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Los Feliz, made famous by Schindler’s pioneering integrations of exterior and interior space. Emigholz also finds room in the film for the odd Schindler-built house of worship (South-Central’s Bethlehem Baptist Church) and of commerce (the Coldwater Curve shopping center in Studio City). The opening image, in fact, is of the familiar West Hollywood intersection of Palm and Holloway: Somewhere in the frame, a narrator explains, is a house by Schindler, but to attempt to separate the building from its surroundings (which include the Sunset Towers office complex and several garish billboards) would be pointless, even “criminal.”

Fortunately, that very crime is one Emigholz goes on to commit often over the course of Schindler’s Houses, as he prowls the Southland from top to bottom, casting his lens upon some 40 Schindler dwellings as far afield as Pasadena, Glendale and the South Bay. Each new location is prefaced by a title card, followed by several stationary shots of the building as seen from different angles and distances. Some will call those shots “static,” though in fact they are anything but. For if one looks closely, one will find that the light is forever shifting, a gentle breeze may sometimes be glimpsed blowing through an open doorway, and, here and there, a fireplace crackles in the distance — a charming notion, really, given that this is L.A. and Emigholz was shooting in late spring. The buildings are ordered chronologically by the year of their construction, but beyond that, there is no obvious pattern to Emigholz’s approach. Some houses he offers only a cursory glance; others he seems to commune with, lingering over their every nook and cranny. A few human figures also pass fleetingly through Emigholz’s frames, including the filmmaker Thom Andersen (seated at his writing desk in his own Schindler-renovated abode), whose essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself was criticized by some for failing to include Schindler in its extended discussion of the relationship between Los Angeles architecture and Hollywood movies. I for one would happily rank Schindler’s Houses alongside Andersen’s film, Michael Mann’s Heat and Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep on the short list of essential movies about our city’s physical and social geography. (Goethe-Institut, L.A.; Tues., Oct. 16, 7 p.m. www.goethe.de/losangeles.)

—Scott Foundas

Reach the writer at sfoundas@villagevoice.com

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