- Bauhaus: Less is More, and: Dessau's Bauhaus
These are two current educational films on the Bauhaus, the most influential art, design and architectural school of the 20th century. It began (at the risk of repeating what everyone knows) in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, moved in 1927 to an important new building designed by Walter Gropius in Dessau, and was eventually forced to relocate in 1933 to a Berlin warehouse, where it was closed by the Nazis. Currently available to school libraries are two longer, more compelling films on this same subject: One is a balanced, well-edited view of the school's history and legacy by British historian Frank Whitford, titled Bauhaus: Face of the 20th Century (available from the distributor of these films), while the other is a [End Page 87] memorable, detailed account of the school's American influence (enriched by brief excerpts from rare historic films and recent candid interviews with eyewitness participants), by Judith Pearlman, titled Bauhaus in America (available from Cliofilm at <cliofilm@ mindspring.com>).
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Of the two new films considered here, neither stands up to the quality of those earlier films, and, of the two, the newer one, titled Bauhaus: Less Is More, is easily more disappointing. In an ironic misuse of the slogan "less is more" (popularized by Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe), the film consists of a jam-packed overview of the 13-year history of the Bauhaus in a mere 32 minutes (an average allocation of about two minutes per year). Despite such excess ambitions, it is still a helpful, informative mix of images that have to do with Bauhaus personalities, products, buildings and historic events, backed up by a monotone voiceover text. Unfortunately, whatever its visual virtues, the film is effectively ruined by what, in the credits, is called a "music mix," and which sounds like canned music ad nauseum ("chewing gum for the ears"), of the sort that we all are condemned to endure in the waiting rooms of dentists or on the telephone whenever we get put on hold. No doubt canned music has its place, but the subject of this film is artistic innovation (at the Bauhaus), and the annoying use of auditory wallpaper (along with other oddities) is a conspicuous contradiction of that—the film preaches one thing but practices the opposite. In contrast, at the real Bauhaus, the students formed a makeshift band (not unlike today's student rock bands) that played improvisational jazz at school parties, mixed in with avant-garde classical scores.
The second of these two new films, called Dessau's Bauhaus (which is also half an hour long), is far more successful, in part because it focuses on a single, central aspect of Bauhaus history. Produced in cooperation with the Pompidou Center, it too provides a historical context, but it does so while always remaining within the topic of the Dessau Bauhaus, the now-famous cluster of buildings designed by Gropius. The film offers an in-depth analysis of this architectural classic, making ample use of sketches, vintage photographs, historic film footage and even comparative aerial views, showing its changes in setting, then and now. Of particular value is extensive footage from a tour of the buildings in their current state (all aspects are being precisely restored), photographs of the wartime damage and animated diagrams of the plan of the buildings, which clearly reveal how the architect made a structure that would effectively function in support of the school he envisioned.