Friday, May 09, 2008

Sketches of Frank Gehry

Thoughts on how to make a documentary film:

Either ...

1) Pick a powerful, thought-provoking, contentious subject (gun culture in 'Bowling for Columbine'*, Tony Blair as a lying s.o.b. and lapdog of Satan in 'Taking Liberties', George Bush as same in 'Taxi to the Dark Side');

or ...

2) Be utterly objective.

Which brings us to 'Sketches of Frank Gehry', in which Sidney Pollack makes a documentary about his mate. Who's an architect ...

No, wait.

I know I just used the words "documentary" and "architect" in close proximity, but bear with me. I know also that 'Sketches of Frank Gehry' isn't going to have mass appeal, and I should make full disclosure at this point: a friend of long-standing is an architect - I've occasionally assisted him with measured surveys and specifications. Without his influence, I doubt I would have rented this film.

I should also make full admission: 'Sketches of Frank Gehry' is a flawed documentary, even if you do have an interest in architecture (I have it on good authority that Nathaniel Kahn's 'My Architect' is a much better piece of work), and yet I enjoyed it for one all-important reason. So let me quickly point out the flaws -

*Pollack states at the beginning of the film that (a) he's never made a documentary before and (b) how do you deal with the three-dimensional (ie, buildings) when your medium is two-dimension (the cinema screen). This sense of awkwardness typifies the film.

*The choice of interviewees favours artists and celebrities (Bob Geldof, Dennis Hopper, a dressing-gown-clad Julian Schnabel) over fellow professionals (the opinions of civil engineers tasked with realising Gehry's designs would have been interesting).

*Most of the interviewees blatantly fawn, with only critic Hal Foster providing an alternative perspective.

- and just say this:

Frank Gehry has designed some of the most striking, original and controversial buildings of the last half century ... and Sidney Pollack, in simply allowing his camera to glide over, in and around them, has made them cinematic.

*Up next in the personal faves project.

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