Friday, October 18, 2013

ADFFNY ’13: The Oyler House

On August 15, 1949, architect Richard Neutra appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.  Back then, that was about as significant as it got.  Times and Time have changed, but Neutra’s mid-century modern architecture is as distinctive as ever.  The architect’s style and methods are explored through the lens of one of his most personal commissions in Mike Dorsey’s The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat (trailer here), which screens this weekend during the 2013 Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York.

After an involuntarily stint with the Austrian army, Neutra immigrated to America and briefly studied with his idol, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Ayn Rand was the second owner of Neutra’s Von Sternberg House, so you know Howard Roark would approve of his work.  Despite his fame, Neutra often accepted relatively modest commissions, including that of Richard F. Oyler.

Oyler assumes Neutra was initially struck by his layman’s regard for the architect’s work, but his site sealed the deal.  The office worker and family man had just purchased a parcel in Lone Pine with a dramatic view a huge natural rock formation.  Neutra was always careful to harmoniously incorporate his buildings into the surrounding landscape, but the Oyler House might have been his masterwork in that regard.

Dorsey shows us quite a bit of the Oyler House, without poking into the bathrooms and cupboards of the current co-owner, actress Kelly Preston.  He also brings Oyler to revisit his former home and reminisce about his long continuing friendship with Neutra.  The famous architect’s sons, Dion and Raymond round out the small but knowledgeable cast of talking heads, along with Crosby Doe, a realtor who specializes in prestige properties like the Oyler Houe.

At forty-six minutes, Retreat offers an in-depth but not overly long case study of Neutra’s architecture.  It nicely captures the vibe of the building, but it fails to ask a few rather obvious questions, such as why Oyler was forced to move. Perhaps the considerable cost of upkeep.  Presumably that flat roof can be an adventure when it rains.  Fortunately, it is in the desert.  Preston, a good sport throughout, also knowingly observes “preservation is not for the faint of heart.” 

Just like the ADFF, The Oyler House is clearly intended for audiences who appreciate the work of Neutra and stylistically related architects like John Lautner and even Wright.  Recommended accordingly, it screens tomorrow (10/19) and Sunday (10/20) at the Tribeca Cinemas as part of ADFF in New York.