Louis Sullivan: the Struggle for American Architecture marks the first time that the life and career of Louis Sullivan has been brought to the screen. Aside from several films that presented certain parts of Sullivan’s career such as his skyscrapers and banks, there has never been an in-depth exploration of him as an artist and what he tried so hard to do for American architecture.
After months of research that began in early 2007, director Mark Richard Smith began traveling throughout the Midwest and East Coast to view first hand most of Sullivan’s surviving works. The experience shaped his commitment to presenting as vividly as possible the stirring, profound beauty of Louis Sullivan’s architecture. Much of the footage is made up of moving shots that trace building details and ornamentation not readily seen by the naked eye.
But this film aspires to present a lot more than just great photography. Sullivan’s quixotic belief in the unbreakable connection between social values and architecture is closely examined, as are the cultural forces at work at the end of the nineteenth century that made it impossible for Sullivan’s aesthetic to take root in the American consciousness. The film presents him as an artist who never felt completely comfortable in either the vanishing world of nineteenth-century romanticism or the unsentimental and mechanized one of the twentieth century. Yet he understood both like no other artist of the period. Out of this conflict came incomparable works of architecture that vividly captured the end of one age and the dawn of another.
And just as important, the film looks at how Louis Sullivan’s genius exerted such a tremendous influence on the development of the most famous architect who ever lived, Frank Lloyd Wright.