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
Pollack on Gehry: An Intimate Dialogue Between Friends Yields True Insight Into the Architecture Icon
Even though I have since seen the Experience Music Project in Seattle and the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, I was first taken by Frank Gehry's work when I accidentally came upon the eye-catching "Fred and Ginger" building in Prague in 1999, an eccentric juxtaposition of a cylindrical concrete building and a free-flowing glass tower that does indeed look like the classic dancing pair. Director Sydney Pollack has taken time out of his commercial film-making to make a mostly winning documentary about his close friend, the world-renowned architect. It's a warm and low-key look at Gehry's creative process which obviously parallels Pollack's own. In fact, the film is structured as an intimate conversation between the two and the joy of the film comes from the unexpected revelations that only happen between friends, in particular, how Gehry broke with tradition at an early age to design wildly original buildings that people either abhor or revere.
With a relative minimum of his own narcissism, Pollack is able to convey Gehry as a curious mix of self-effacing outsider and proud non-conformist and uses not only Gehry's own musings but the perspectives of others to provide evidence of both sides of the man. Not too surprisingly, Gehry's long-time therapist Milton Wexler provides the most perceptive comments about his patient's internal creative struggles, but there are also insightful remarks from Gehry's colleague, the late Philip Johnson; Herbert Muschamp of the New York Times; and architecture critic Hal Foster, the only one to offer a dissenting view of Gehry's work.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to broaden the audience for his film, Pollack has also included several celebrities, whose opinions about Gehry border on the banal, for example, film industry heavyweights Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner and Barry Diller; Dennis Hopper who lives in a Gehry-designed house; and Bob Geldof who just happened upon Gehry's to pass by the Vitra Design Museum while on tour. Director Julian Schnabel provides some funny moments as he shows up in a bathrobe, sunglasses and with a brandy snifter, especially as he talks about the audacity of Gehry's work and makes a classic analogy with Robert Duvall's performance in "Apocalypse Now".
However, the best moments are Gehry at work with his design partners Craig Webb and Edwin Chan, as they innocently start designs with construction paper and a pair of scissors. Pollack's cinematic skills come into play when he showcases the designs of Gehry's most famous buildings, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA and the DG Bank Building in Berlin. With long takes and compositions set against adjacent buildings, we can appreciate what Gehry was trying to achieve in making his designs compatible with the environs. Instead of the montage provided in the film, a more comprehensive and annotated image catalogue of his work would have been more helpful in order to understand the changes in Gehry's designs as his career progressed. Other than previews for several recent documentaries, the only extra on the 2006 DVD is an illuminating half-hour Q&A session with Pollack moderated by director Alexander Payne.
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