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Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)

A biography of the life and work of the American architect.


Ken Burns, Lynn Novick

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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Edward Herrmann ... Narrator (voice)
Philip Bosco ... (voice)
Julie Harris ... (voice)
Sab Shimono ... (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
William Cronon William Cronon ... Himself - Historian
Brendan Gill Brendan Gill ... Himself - Writer
Paul Goldberger Paul Goldberger ... Himself - Architecture Critic
Philip Johnson Philip Johnson ... Himself - Architect
Maya Lin Maya Lin ... Herself - Artist
Vincent Scully ... Himself - Architectural Historian
Meryle Secrest Meryle Secrest ... Herself - Biographer
Robert A.M. Stern Robert A.M. Stern ... Himself - Architect
Edgar Tafel Edgar Tafel ... Himself
Anne Whiston Spirn Anne Whiston Spirn ... Herself - Architect
David Wright David Wright ... Himself


This film illustrates the life and work of the American architect. We follow the development of his work and his turbulent family life amidst scandal and tragedy. Despite all the difficulties of his personal life, Wright rises above all and beats all the odds to design some of the most famous buildings using brilliant and distinctively innovative designs that only his genius could create. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

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Release Date:

23 January 1998 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Florentine Films,WETA See more »
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Technical Specs



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Did You Know?


Features The House on the Waterfall (1989) See more »


Quartet 32 in A Minor, Op. 132
By Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Guarneri String Quartet
Courtesy of BMG Music
See more »

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User Reviews

A great documentary about a great man.
17 July 2007 | by budmasseySee all my reviews

Like many great men, Frank Lloyd Wright was complex and controversial. You either love his architecture, or you hate it. Few people are lukewarm about Wright's work. After seeing this documentary, few will be lukewarm about the man.

Raised on the idea that he was destined for greatness, Wright behaved throughout his life as if he were above the constraints of ordinary people. This documentary takes an unflinching look at the turmoil this caused in Wright's life.

The vignettes of family members are moving, particularly a scene near the end when his grandson recalls Wright's death. By simple chronological narrative, Burns takes us from dazzling heights when Wright's fellowship was thriving artistically and financially, to dismal lows when his wife had to wear hand-me-down coats in the cold Wisconsin winter.

The commentaries by architecture illuminati are illuminating, if perhaps a bit insular. Vincent Scully gained fame at the distinguished Yale School of Architeture. Phillip Johnson, a graduate of Harvard, once referred to Scully as the most influential teacher of architecture in history, and used his position as founder of MoMA Department of Architecture and Design as a bully pulpit to vilify Wright's work during Johnson's association with Bauhuas buddies Meis and Gropius. Robert A. M. Stern is currently Dean of Yale's School of Architecture, and with Scully, was responsible for popularizing the work of great architects like Robert Venturi. Still, this cabal of academic elitists sing a harmonious chorus of praise to Wright that demonstrates the rising and falling tides of Wright's popularity.

The documentary will not satisfy those who merely wish to see a catalog of Wright works, and after all, is there anyone alive who hasn't explored that body of work? It focuses instead on Wright the man, something much less understood. Wright is described as everything from a genius, a charlatan, and a con artist, to the greatest American Architect, and probably all are true. But if Wright and his early mentor Louis Sullivan were correct that form follows function, then perhaps genius is best understood by examining the life that developed it.

The makers of this film "get" Wright, and the consistency of Wright's vision, from his earliest work, to mid-career masterpieces like Fallingwater, to his final triumph with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue in New York City is presented with insight and perspective. A great documentary about a great man.

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