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Monday, February 3, 2014

DVD Review: The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat

The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat is a documentary celebrating an artistic work of architecture and the two men responsible for its existence. For it seems that the original owner is just as responsible for the house as is the architect who designed it.

The film features interviews with the original owner, Richard F. Oyler, who did some of the actual work on the house. There are also interviews with Kelly Lynch (who currently owns the house with her husband, Mitch Glazer), Crosby Doe (the Oyler House real estate agent), and Richard Neutra’s sons – Dion and Raymond.

The film opens with the interviewer asking Richard F. Oyler why he wanted Richard Neutra in particular to design his house. Oyler responds, “I could be in the living room or wherever, and I’m outdoors too.” And we immediately see what he means. It’s incredible the way the house gives you a feeling of being outside while being inside.  Richard F. Oyler speaks with passion, even amazement, about the location and the house. So does Kelly Lynch, who tells us, “I love this house like a person.”

Even apart from the Oyler House, Richard F. Oyler seems like an interesting person. He talks a bit about his background, including the fact that he joined the navy before the U.S. became involved in World War II, and was actually at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. After the war, a man came to ask him for help in selling some land in Long Pine that he had bought. When Oyler went to look at it, he fell in love with one parcel of land, and bought it himself. It was a librarian who turned him on to the architect Richard Neutra.

Oyler comes across as charming and affable. About contacting Neutra, he says: “I wrote him and told him who I was: nobody. And what I did, and what my budget would be, and where my property would be.” Neutra came to look at the property, and Oyler says: “I think that’s the only reason he accepted me as a client. I think he fell in love with the property.”

Interestingly, after the house was built, Neutra and his wife continued to visit Oyler and his family at that house. It became a yearly visit, and they also exchanged letters. That certainly seems an unusual relationship.

Richard Neutra’s sons, Dion and Raymond, provide interesting background information on their father. Dion, who is an architect himself, says he has no memory of his father ever turning anyone down. And Raymond says his father liked building for people of modest means.

In addition to excellent footage of the house and the land surrounding it (which is beautiful), the film provides still photos of some of Neutra’s other work, including the Health House. And one of the most interesting points for me is one that Raymond Neutra makes. He talks about how in movies, it’s the bad guy or the deviant guy who lives in one of the modern houses. And the film shows us still photos of some examples, including the Lovell Health House (which was seen in L.A. Confidential) and John Lautner’s Chemosphere (which was the villain’s house in Body Double).

I do wish that Oyler had talked about why he moved out, and why the house isn’t in his family’s possession anymore. The house clearly means a lot to Oyler even now. So what led him to sell it? And when did he? And how many owners have there been? That, to me, is the one important element lacking in the story, and I wish the filmmaker had thought to ask Oyler about it.

By the way, the pool is amazing, as is the story behind it. And I love that Kelly Lynch talks about being a caretaker for the house, not its owner.

Special Features

The DVD includes a special tour of the house conducted by both Richard F. Oyler and Kelly Lynch. Oyler shares memories, and tells stories behind some of the marks on the house. Kelly Lynch talks about James Taylor visiting the house and loving the property.

There are also three short deleted scenes (totaling approximately five minutes). In one of these scenes, both Oyler and Lynch talk about how a lot of films were made in Long Pine. In another, Oyler talks about the story of his brother at Iwo Jima.

The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat was directed by Mike Dorsey, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on February 25, 2014 through First Run Features.

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