Right after I arrived in Rome a Dutch affiliated fellow in film heard me mention Nervi and asked what I thought of the film Parabeton. I knew that Heinz Emigholz, a German experimental film-maker, had done a piece on Nervi. But the film, which came out in 2012, didn’t exactly make it to theaters in Iowa.
One of the great things about the American Academy is the connections here, though, and last week two visiting residents mentioned that they were off to Berlin to visit Emigholz, and they’d try to get a copy for me. Which they did (thank you, Gary and John–a million, million thanks). So I’ve been immersed in this amazing bit of video ever since, along with its companion pieces on Maillart, Sullivan, Goff (!), and Perret. Parabeton captures 17 Nervi projects and contrasts them with 10 ancient Roman examples of concrete. The argument here is as simple as it is rich; Nervi’s work both continues and contrasts with ancient traditions, and concrete is as versatile a building material as one can imagine.
Emigholz’ method in all of these architectural films (part of a series called Decampment of Modernism) is to let the buildings speak for themselves–unnarrated, beautifully shot sequences that gradually reveal both detail and whole. The shots are all perfectly illuminated (it must have taken weeks of waiting to get some of these) and accompanied only by perfectly captured ambient sound. That sounds simple, but the ‘soundtrack’ is brilliantly engineered. And the buildings are captured as they are, with the accretions and decay that mar them shown unapologetically (a subtle theme throughout these documentaries is the aging and occasional ruin that progressive examples of modernism find themselves subject to).
These films are, of course, the sorts of things I’d watch no matter how well-crafted. It might take a bit more faith for civilians to sit down for 100 minutes of dialogue-free scenes of raw concrete. But these are extraordinary pieces of cinema and photography (even the Hollywood Reporter was on board). Highly recommended for architects, engineers, and film lovers, even though still difficult to obtain–information on screenings and purchase here. Definitely one to watch for.