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James A. Stewart
DVD Verdict, August 2010

As he fought in World War I, Walter Gropius dreamed of something greater, the opportunity to alter the course of civilization with architecture and design, rather than bullets and bombs. When he got back to Germany, he founded the Bauhaus school in Weimar. The Face of the Twentieth Century: Bauhaus covers the story of the Bauhaus school, from its start in 1919 through two forced moves—to Dessau and Berlin—until its closing by the Nazis in 1933.

What’s most interesting to me about Gropius’ concept was its emphasis on students actually making things—stained glass, chairs, fabrics—in workshops. Artists and craftsmen teamed up to teach them the basics, meaning they could improve on aesthetics and still have a chair you could sit on. Among the many events held at the school was a “Metallic Festival,” for which students had to create metallic thingies. The practical emphasis shows, and you’ll see a lot of Bauhaus design, from steel chairs and tea infusers to skyscrapers, in this short documentary from British TV.

Unfortunately, Gropius’ dreams of altering the course of civilization didn’t take hold. As the school was bringing into the world the concept of “the longhaired radical art student” by stressing individuality, the Bauhaus clashed with the Nazis. The school’s end was tragic, with stormtroopers taking over the building and some students being taken away. Many students and educators fled to the United States, particularly Chicago, where they designed some nifty steel-and-glass skyscrapers.

Bauhaus mainly deals with Gropius’ concept, the people who made the school, and the political climate it endured in its brief life. It does a decent job, but I had a sense that these topics could have easily taken twice the time, and another documentary could have been done about the Bauhaus’ impact on home life, architecture, photography, and typography.

The production uses a good selection of vintage film and photos, and it looks about as good as it could, given the age of some of the material. The most interesting bit might be a contemporary recreation of The Triadic Ballet, a dance work developed at the Bauhaus theater workshop that blends design elements with movement.

The extras are a slideshow with forty examples of Bauhaus design and a booklet with a brief essay on the Bauhaus in English and German.

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