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A FilmExposed Film Review

Sketches of Frank Gehry (12A)

Sketches of Frank Gehry (12A)

Dir: Sydney Pollack, USA, 83mins
Featuring: Frank Gehry, Milton Wexler, Bob Geldof, Dennis Hopper

Architects are usually seen as aloof artisans, obsessed with precise detail, clean lines and accurate measurements. They’re exacting, meticulous and frankly rather anal. Then there’s Frank Gehry, who scribbles in his notebook, mashes together a few bits of cardboard and then gets millions of dollars to throw up buildings which are more akin to sculptures. Perhaps best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Gehry’s work is constantly challenging, sometimes baffling and chronicled here by his good friend, director/producer Sydney Pollack.

The film is titled perfectly, as extensive rostrum work shows just how faithfully Gehry's ragged pencil drawings are transformed into huge three-dimensional structures. The film is shot on a combination of 35mm and mini-DV, but while the digital video is appropriate for the portrait of the artist, the celluloid doesn’t quite capture the magic of Gehry’s work. While technically accomplished, it never quite gets the heart racing in the way the director would like. But Sketches of Frank Gehry is about more than simple architectural eye-candy and is at it’s strongest when focusing on the man himself. The film obviously benefits from Pollack and Gehry's close relationship, with easy back-and-forth dialogue between the two. For a first time documentary maker, Pollack is a shrewd judge of when to talk and when simply to listen and Gehry himself is good on camera. He talks candidly about his Jewish roots, difficulties in art college and his early failed marriage. Indeed, the level of candour is such that Gehry’s therapist (Wexler) is interviewed extensively and it seems that there’s never anything less than complete disclosure about his life as well as his work. It’s here that the film works best, allowing Gehry to speak freely about how and why he sees the world the way he does.

It’s a shame that Pollack seems to think this is enough and ropes in a host of wealthy celebrities to endorse Gehry’s work. Such star power is a double-edged sword, however, with the earnest celebs often coming across as little more than eager admirers of the emperor’s new clothes. Hal Foster speaks out as the lone voice of criticism, but is only given a bunch of magazine headlines for company. Perhaps such bias is only to be expected in a film made by one of Gehry’s friends, but while the film never questions his genius, the average viewer may not be so sure. Perhaps it’s appropriate to not quite know what to make of Sketches of Frank Gehry. At times, it seems remarkably candid, while other moments have the unmistakable whiff of puff-piece. It’s an unapologetically soft piece of reportage, but manages to get deeper inside the man than a more balanced work might have accomplished. Just as Gehry’s work provokes debate, so too will this documentary, hopefully within a wider audience than the expected architecture students and Gehry admirers.


Tom Alexander

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