• Detail of the Merchants National Bank (1914), one of Sullivan’s “Jewel Box” banks found throughout the Midwest.

    Credit: Whitecap Films, Inc.

    Detail of the Merchants National Bank (1914), one of Sullivan’s “Jewel Box” banks found throughout the Midwest.

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture takes the viewer back to the roots of modern American architecture, to the man who was first inspired by his boyhood roots in the countryside north of Boston, among trees, flowers, and honeycombs. This first film solely about Sullivan (1856–1924), now on DVD, details the architect’s biography and the way his 19th-centurylike romantic ornamentation met his breakthrough 20th-century skyscraper designs–in the context of Chicago’s rise, the Beaux-Arts craze, and industrialization. "Louis Sullivan devoted himself to the idea that the United States should have architecture as unique and daring as the nation itself," the narrator says. He was also an early believer in design for all–a belief his mentee Frank Lloyd Wright would hold as well. The film shows his many banks built for blue-collar Middle America, as well as his famous Carson Pirie Scott & Co., built for retail in Chicago, among other projects. In one of the many advantages of film, director Mark Richards Smith concentrates close-ups on elaborate detailing of ceilings and building tops that is near-impossible to see in person. • $25–$35; Whitecap Films, Nov. 2010; louissullivanfilm.com