A look at the life and career of architect Frank Gehry (1929 - ), a visit to four buildings (the Vitra Museum in Germany, Maggie's Centre, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and the Disney Concert Hall in L.A.), and an inquiry into creativity in conversations between Ghery and Sidney Pollack, whom Gehry asked to make this picture. Early experiences (playing with blocks with his grandmother, drawing with his father, hearing Alvar Aalto lecture), discovering computer-assisted design, finding a psychoanalyst, experimenting on his own home, and bringing an artist and sculptor's sensibility to architecture are part of Gehry's story. Friends, artists, critics, and curators comment. Written by
Somehow I expected an exploration of architecture with a movie camera by a real pro, but I was disappointed. Basically this is a fairly conventional documentary with talking heads and static views of buildings sometimes, it has to be acknowledged, beautifully enlivened by water or reflections of it as well as by the occasional drifting cloud.
The title is not bad. Basically, Sydney Pollack sketches famed architect Frank O. Gehry with his camera (mostly hand-held videocam). It is a bit corny that the movie starts with an extreme close up of a Gehry sketch - or rather a print of a Gehry sketch - which is misleading as the sketches the title refers to are the ones the director makes of his subject. Gehry is Pollack's friend and comes through as a demure, well behaved man I am sure everybody likes to have as a granddad.
The best scenes show Gehry in his studio, brooding over working models, or at the wheel of his car, completely relaxed. We observe a man who has strong memories about his childhood and his youth, who never forgot poverty and the fear of failure and bankruptcy but also fondly remembers people who showed him kindness or gave him insights. His art must somehow come out of these memories and his specific biography. Unfortunately the movie does not make inquiries to go deeper, but maybe that would be asking too much of a documentary.
What I really regret is, that the choice of buildings centers on the later work of the architect. I studied architecture circa 15 years ago. In my memory Gehry is principally honored by schools of architecture for his artistry when finding new formal expressions using cheap everyday materials in new and unexpected ways, for example his studies concerning an artistic use of chain-link fences. I think this research" work inspired younger architects in Switzerland, e.g. world famous Herzog & de Meuron. Later his buildings became somewhat slicker" and the materials more exclusive and expensive the aid of computer design programs probably seduced this architect into creating twisted sculptures and then just blowing them up and out of proportion. At least the movie includes the O'Neill Hay Barn, at San Juan Capistrano, CA, from 1968, a true masterwork in simplicity and possibly a turning point in Gehry's career.
The choice of the people who Pollack interviewed for this movie other than Gehry is not very good and seems a little arbitrary. They don't deliver much additional information about the man and his work the Europeans (Felix Fehlbaum, Bob Geldof) come off best. The others seem mainly to try to improve their own image. The presence of Gehry's longtime shrink in this movie is somewhat mysterious and inconclusive, as a viewer I had the impression that I was lacking some inside information.
The main problem of the sketches probably consists in the fact that it is not clear what they want to show and explain the viewers (the who, the what or the why) and it proves my suspicion that the exploration of the built world with the medium film or video still has a long way to go.
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