In what is a tribute honoring his parent’s intellectual rigor and legacy, Jim Venturi, the 36-year-old son of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, is producing and directing a film about the highly regarded yet sometimes misunderstood architects. Called Learning From Bob and Denise, a title that riffs on the influential duo's 1972 book, Learning From Las Vegas, the feature-length film is nearing completion and its trailer will be shown June 4 in Chicago at Pecha Kucha Night, a networking event for young architects.
The documentary mixes archival footage and photos with recent interviews, conducted mostly by Jim Venturi. In addition to his parents, the aspiring filmmaker speaks with architects, historians, and critics such as Fred Schwartz, Martin Filler, Vincent Scully, Tom Wolfe, and Paul Goldberger. “I think I have a unique vantage point,” he explains. “I have firsthand knowledge about them, and access to people associated with them.”
In 2003, Jim Venturi ended his decade-long career in New York City as a technology consultant to pursue cinematography—and specifically this project. His parents weren’t initially receptive to the idea of starring in a documentary, but have since embraced it. “We’re thrilled with the approach he’s taking,” Scott Brown told RECORD. “I hope that audiences will get a view of Bob and me in the round, and that the film will set some records straight.”
As a running theme, the film examines Scott Brown, 76, and Robert Venturi, 82—both still active in their practice, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates—as outsiders constantly battling the status quo. The Philadelphia-based architects were pioneers in exploring design that was not the modern idiom, and they have not always been fully and equally appreciated, their son explains. The documentary also touches on Scott Brown’s experience as an immigrant to the United States who dealt with anti-Semitism and sexism.
Overall, Jim Venturi says, the film centers on his parent’s career and is not an emotional tale about the inner-workings of their family.“There’s very little, if any, of my personal relationship with them in the film,” he says. In this way, it differs considerably from My Architect (2003), another film produced by the son of a famed Philadelphia architect. That Oscar-nominated movie, by Nathaniel Kahn—the child of Louis I. Kahn—was less documentary and more first-person narrative centered on the filmmaker’s quest to learn more about the father he barely knew.
In recent months, Jim Venturi has presented a 13-minute trailer for Learning From Bob and Denise to various members of the architectural community. While he has raised more than $500,000 to make the documentary—primarily through donations —he needs to raise another half-million to complete it. He hopes to release the film in early 2009.
To learn more, visit a Web site created for the project, www.bobanddenise.org.