Bette Jane Cohen, director, producer, and editor of the 1990 film The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner, passed away on October 19, 2016, after a long illness. She was 62.
Cohen’s work as a filmmaker and editor is widely regarded in architecture circles, with her work on Lautner’s architecture holding high prominence for its impact on the late architect’s nearly forgotten career. The film, produced during a nadir for the groundbreaking designer’s work, brought renewed attention and interest to Southern California’s midcentury modernist heritage years before appreciation for the era’s architectural works would begin to take off in earnest. Last year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein Residence as a part of its permanent collection. Cohen’s documentary showcases the only instances of filmed interviews with the architect. Cohen had recently been traveling the world in support of an updated 25th anniver25th-anniversarythe film.
Writing in 2001 for the John Lautner Foundation about her experience making the film, Cohen remarked on the sheer novelty of her focus on Lautner’s work, saying, “At the time I made the film, no books had been written on Lautner.” In the essay, Cohen recalls how she did not know Lautner when she started work on the film and had not yet asked permission to use his work in the movie, saying, “I went into Lautner’s office with my proposal and introduced myself. I had never made a film before but I had been a film editor on many films. He said, ‘Well it seems like a worthwhile project and you seem tall enough to do it!’ That is how we started working together.” Cohen went on to, among other accomplishments, eventually serve as a founding member of the John Lautner Foundation Advisory Board.
Services for Cohen were held Friday, October 21, 2016, at the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles.