American Masters: Season 20, Episode 7

Sketches of Frank Gehry (27 Sep. 2006)

TV Episode  |  PG-13  |   |  Documentary, Biography, History
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A look at the life and work of the renown architect.


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Title: Sketches of Frank Gehry (27 Sep 2006)

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Episode credited cast:
Charles Arnoldi ...
Himself (as Chuck Arnoldi)
Rolf Fehlbaum ...
Hal Foster ...
Himself (archive footage)
Mildred Friedman ...
Frank O. Gehry ...
Charles Jencks ...
Philip Johnson ...
Thomas Krens ...
Peter Lewis ...
Herbert Muschamp ...


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 <>

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Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language | See all certifications »





Release Date:

27 September 2006 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$17,239 (USA) (12 May 2006)


$438,256 (USA) (1 September 2006)

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The last film (documentary) directed by Sydney Pollack. See more »


References Columbo (1971) See more »

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User Reviews

How Sketches Become Structures In Frank Gehry's World
30 May 2006 | by (Portland, Oregon, United States) – See all my reviews

Our current superstar on the world's architectural stage is profiled in this excellent documentary, the first by veteran narrative filmmaker Sydney Pollack, who is an old friend of Gehry's. The film has a relaxed, confident pace. And through it we learn about as much as one could ever hope to know about one man's process of transforming an initial sketch - some call it doodling: typically minimal, erratically penned lines and squiggles, a sloppy geometry if there ever was one - into a monumental structure.

This is no small task in Gehry's case, since he flaunts all of the staid rules of architecture. Rather than being constrained by conventional wisdom, he emulates the freedom of a painter or sculptor: folks in whose company he is far more comfortable than he is with other architects. In fact he'd rather have been a painter. Thanks to computer technology and rich clients seeking unusual structures, Gehry has the luxury these days of placing his doodles in the hands of a phalanx of model makers, software wizards and engineers who translate them into plans that work.

But it doesn't happen fast. Pollack brings forth from Gehry a demonstration of what is perhaps the central element in his success: a characteristic tendency to look honestly at his early efforts on a project, permit himself to experience displeasure, and reject the initial attempt in part or wholly, starting over again with an increased sense of confidence that his next draft will be better because of what he learned the first time around. (He worked for 12 years with one client to get a project right. It cost $6 million!)

The many scenes in which Gehry is engaged in dialogue with Pollack are excellent, illuminating his approach to his work and recalling early influences (his grandmother built structures of wood scraps with him on the floor as a young child; his father drew with him). Brief interviews with architects Philip Johnson and Edward Ruscha are also useful. Far less interesting are media/entertainment luminaries like Bob Geldof, Michael Eisner, Barry Diller and Michael Ovitz, who merely chatter at us as a way of introducing buildings Gehry has designed. (Who knows, maybe Pollack got money to finance the film by giving these people airtime, sort of like product placement.)

If the process of Gehry's architectural creation is well mapped here, the demonstration of his creative productions suffers some. Yes, we do get to see most of his public structures, and several private dwellings as well. And the uses of light and camera angles yield some quite exquisite views. But it all tends to go by too fast: the tracking shots are too speedy; the cuts too brief. It would have been better to linger more, to give viewers of these magical structures, many of whom might, after all, never have a chance to visit most of them, the sort of long gaze one would stop to take in if visiting the premises.

Movement is central to narrative film-making, as Pollack knows. Yet moments of repose are incredibly valuable in the documentary form, if art is the subject. Yes, I meant to say art, for what is most clear from this film is that Frank Gehry is - first and foremost - an artist.

Thanks to his talent and good fortune Gehry has found a way to yoke his artist's vision to contemporary technology to make structures that are aesthetically sublime, buildings that seem to defy and at times even escape the laws of physics that architecture demands to be fulfilled. My Grade: B+ 8/10

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