Coast Modern examines West Coast architecture of the 1950s and '60s
A documentary by Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome. Unrated. Opens Friday, July 6, at the Vancity Theatre
The word modern always carries different meanings for people in varying places and times. Only recently has it come to be associated with the notion of nostalgia. Among the hipstergentsia, at least, it has become shorthand for mid-century modern, itself a catch-all for directions in architecture and furniture design signalled by visionaries like Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Eames.
The wistfulness applies not so much because designs for living have deteriorated since 1950 but because these sleek, functional fashions never fully caught on. The locally made Coast Modern looks beyond the Mad Men sets to examine specific trends that held forth in the 1950s and ’60s, especially on the Pacific stretch from Los Angeles to Vancouver, offering a special emphasis on pushing clean lines through untamed settings of rock and green.
The good-looking one-hour doc is codirected by Vancouverites Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome, who utilize skills they picked up in the worlds of art, music, and design. Coast features pithy comments from such modernist mavens as Douglas Coupland, Barbara Lamprecht, and Straight contributor Trevor Boddy, as well as visits to superb structures designed by architects like Rudolph Schindler and Arthur Erickson.
There could have been mentions of Alvin Lustig and the connections between cubistic houses, sci-fi lampshades, and graphic-design trends, but I certainly appreciated the segment on Joseph Eichler tract homes, common in the part of Northern California where I grew up. One of the rare examples (predating IKEA, anyway) of modernist-housing concepts taken to a mass-production model, these Japan-by-way-of-Denmark wood framers struck us all as being different, but I can’t recall anyone discussing why that was. But then, the inability to define, or even describe, our immediate surroundings is just one reason that someone in the film declares modernism as “a beautiful failure”.