It felt a bit like the Decoration & Design Building at the Architecture and Design Film Festival last night for the U.S. premiere of Lioness Among Lions: The Architect Zaha Hadid, thanks in part to a smattering of East Side stylings in the crowd at the Tribeca Cinemas and the clever addition of Potterton Books to the festival. Waiting for the theater doors to open, we swigged wine provided by event sponsor Resource Furniture and perused shelves filled with a fantastic collection of both old and new books; Loos and Gio Ponti pressed up against Studio Gang. As we raved about Van Alen’s new bookstore, Potterton’s book buyer Beth Daugherty admitted she still mourns the loss of Urban Center Books.
Once inside the theater, a sexy little short by photographer Dave Burk cast Studio Gang’s new Columbia College Media Production Center in Chicago in soft light and perfectly realized cross-fades. And so it was a bit of disappointment to see the feature film’s production values were slightly less than the opener.
But the problem with Lioness, which was released in Germany last year, isn’t entirely the production. The buildings are handsomely handled by director Horst Brandenburg, though they’re not choreographed in a manner that makes one truly feel the flow. No, the main problem is in the fawning tenor of a voiceover that sounds like it’s intended for the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” The oversimplified narration will make architecture fans understand what historians must feel watching the History Channel.
The saving grace, not surprisingly, is when Hadid weighs in. Only then does the film delve slightly into the technology and offer any deep analysis. But here the editing keeps the focus on the fabulous: Here’s Zaha fanning herself in Spain with a Spanish fan; here she is in Hong Kong at a Chanel opening wearing Prada, there she is in ripped jeans… you get the picture.
Of course, it’s understood that the film is for a general audience, but general audiences dig details, too. Throw in a foundry, a glass manufacturer, and a computer program for good measure. Explain how the buildings work in layman’s terms. Only then will the audience understand why she’s fabulous.