Frank Gehry on Film - What a new documentary does and doesn't say about the famous architect. By Witold Rybczynski
It's not just that I didn't know anything about making documentaries. I didn't even know anything about architecture," says Hollywood director Sydney Pollack, recalling his reaction to Frank Gehry's request that he make a movie about his work. "That's why you're perfect," Gehry is supposed to have answered. After seeing Sketches of Frank Gehry, I'm not so sure.
[Pollack] spent five years filming Sketches, which is clearly a labor of love. Some of the unaffected scenes are conversations between Gehry and Pollack—old friends and schmoozing old pros. But when Hollywood talking heads such as Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, and Dennis Hopper (who lives in a Gehry-designed house, though we never see it) pontificate about architecture, it's downright embarrassing.
Pollack was right: He doesn't know much about architecture (although he knows a lot about how to film it and produces some gorgeous footage of Gehry's buildings). Perhaps that's why he didn't interview many architects. It would have been interesting to hear from Gehry's younger Los Angeles colleagues, such as Thom Mayne or Eric Owen Moss, for example, about how Gehry has—or hasn't—influenced their work. Or from Robert Venturi, who once roundly criticized the sort of sculptural, evocative buildings that Gehry has brought to the fore. Instead, the only architect we hear from is an aged Philip Johnson, visibly fragile and lacking his usual acerbic wit.
In his Hollywood way, Pollack wants to cast Gehry as an outsider, a rebel. (Never underestimate the lingering influence of The Fountainhead.) Consequently, except for a brief scene of a standing ovation during the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, we get no sense of Gehry's immense and far-flung popularity; he has won every architectural award, and is—after Bilbao—a household name. This is an odd omission, since Pollack is a consummate maker of popular entertainment. It would have been interesting to hear man-on-the-street interviews to have a sense of how Gehry connects with his public.