The annual ritual of the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals that take place simultaneously in Park City, Utah in January have just concluded. Here’s a rundown of films where architecture and design are featured characters. Watch out for these titles as are they are released. (Note: All films were screened at Sundance, unless otherwise noted.) Columbus is set in this Indiana town that has become a modernist architectural mecca (and is the birthplace of V.P. Mike Pence). The Cummins Engine Company, then run by J. Irwin Miller II, initiated a program where the company paid architects’ fees for public buildings in this small town (population 44,000 in the last census) if selected from a designated list, yielding buildings from architects like Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Roche-Dinkeloo, Robert Venturi, César Pelli, Richard Meier, and Harry Weese. A magnet for architects to visit, the plot begins when a notable Korean architect is in town to deliver a lecture, only to collapse at the Miller House (Eero Saarinen, architect; Alexander Girard, interiors; Dan Kiley, landscape) in the opening scene. A young woman, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), who grew up in Columbus and works in the library (I.M. Pei, architect), has come to love the architecture, unlike her peers, who barely seem to notice. Casey says of Columbus, “Meth and modernism are really big here” to the Korean architect’s estranged son, Jin (John Cho), who has come to be with his now-comatose father. She takes him around Columbus, often at night, to show him the architecture that moves her. She also tells him that she met architect Deborah Berke when she delivered a lecture in town—Berke designed the Columbus’s Irwin Union Bank in 2006 as well as a building for Cummins in Indianapolis in 2017—who encouraged Casey to go to the University of New Haven, audit her class at Yale (where Berke is now dean) and intern at her office in New York. Casey even quotes Jim Polshek about the healing power of the built form. In the film, architecture symbolizes hope for the future, a utopian vision. The director, Kogonada, made his name as a film critic and maker of “supercuts,” short online videos on cinema history. (See his website for “Kubrick’s One-Point Perspective,” “Auteur in Space” and “Mirrors of Bergman.”) Abstract: The Art of Design is a new series premiering on Netflix on February 10. Each of the eight episodes focuses on a designer—Bjarke Ingels (architect), Christoph Niemann (illustrator), Es Devlin (stage designer), Ilse Crawford (interior designer), Paula Scher (graphic designer), Platon (photographer), Ralph Gilles (automobile designer) and Tinker Hatfield (Nike shoe designer)—all chosen by Scott Dadich, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. The one shown at Sundance was on Niemann and directed by Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies). The question arises: Is the designer the filmmaker? Is the film about the maker or made by him or her? By taking us inside Niemann’s head and processes with clever animation, they are clearly partners. The title “abstract” refers to taking meaning down to the essence, like Niemann’s explanations with Legos—yellow for a New York City taxi, or several configurations to explain a nuclear family from different members’ point of view, or his many New Yorker covers including one of Donald Trump in U.S. flag motif. Slamdance presented Aerotropolis, whose title refers to an ambitious urban development project for Taoyuan, a city in northwestern Taiwan, as a major transportation hub for airplanes and ships. However, it has been a bust with an incomplete airport subway link, unaffordable luxury properties laying empty, land sold at wildly inflated prices, and thousands of displaced residents, all accompanied by conflicts of interest and corruption scandals involving government officials overseeing the project. Allen (Yang Chia-lun) has invested all his inheritance in real estate hoping to cash in on the market bubble created by the Aerotropolis project. But his scheme is a failure as he is unable to find buyers. Although he owns a luxury property, in order to keep it pristine for potential buyers, Allen essentially lives like a homeless person, sleeping in his car and using public restrooms at the airport. The web series Gente-fied (executive produced by America Ferrara) depicts slices of life in a gentrifying L.A. neighborhood, Boyle Heights, with stories of those struggling with (and adapting to) the changes brought by affluent people moving in and long-term, less-affluent residents facing displacement. The series tries to humanize the issues. In the first vignette, Chris has a taco shop. Mexicans won't buy $3 tacos because they’re too expensive, while whites say the food is so authentic, it’s like they were kidnapped by a cartel. Chris is given a “Mexican” test by his cousin and elders. Another story depicts Ana, who paints a gay-themed mural on side of bodega for the supremely pleased, new white landlord—to the horror of the staff. Her attempts to appease the shopkeeper are rebuffed, as she fears the mural will scare away her regular customers. In the third, Pancho runs a bar. New customers want the bar to look like “Frida Kahlo threw up all over it.” The same white landlord (who owns the bodega) raises the rent repeatedly, and when the price doubles, Pancho gives up the bar and washes floors in a bodega with the mural. In the winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting, Pop Aye, Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) is the once-praised architect of Gardenia Square, a 1990s landmark high-rise in Bangkok. Now that his boss’s son has taken over the firm and is replacing Gardenia with a sleek new skyscraper called Eternity (seen in a slick video), Thana is depressed. Now unkempt and out of place in his office, as well as an unwanted presence by his wife in his own modernist home with an interesting curved front gate and clean lines (complete with a Barcelona chair). He goes on an unexpected road trip with an elephant he believes to be from his childhood—they never forget—through the Thai countryside to his hometown where his childhood home has been sold to developers and replaced with a mundane apartment block. Another example of sleek development is shown in the Middle East in The Workers Cup, where construction workers from India, Kenya, Ghana, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines work in Qatar to build the 2022 FIFA World Cup Stadium. We see the work camps where they live, the luxury shopping centers they have built (but cannot enter after they open to the public at 10:00 a.m.), and their arduous construction sites. We follow a group who participate in a corporate-sponsored “workers welfare” soccer tournament. The Nile Hilton Incident, which won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, is set against the backdrop of Cairo in the days before the Tahrir Square uprising. A wealthy real estate developer of the “New Cairo” is mistakenly accused of the murder of his mistress in the upscale—yet still seedy—hotel of the title just off the square. As we follow Noredin (Fares Fares), a cop who is corrupt but has his limits, around the new and old cityscapes—from the Sudanese immigrant community to the palatial home of the developer—it’s like watching a Graham Green novel. Winner of Slamdance’s Narrative Feature Audience Award was Dave Made a Maze. During a weekend when his girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) is away, Dave (Nick Thune) decides to build a cardboard fort in the living room; essentially, he is the architect of the maze. On her return, Annie speaks to the unseen Dave inside the maze, who tells her that he is lost inside. She calls a friend for help, who in turn calls a documentary filmmaker and other friends. When they enter, the world inside the maze is far bigger than what appears on the outside, with a seemingly unending string of puzzles and booby traps all cleverly brought to life through the use of cardboard, modest digital effects, and animation. The filmmakers assembled 30,000 square feet of cardboard to build full-scale sets for this fortress-like environment. After losing her job and boyfriend in New York due to binge drinking, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) moves back to her hometown to discover a strange connection with a monster attacking Seoul, South Korea in Colossal. When she moves, the monster moves. The plot is motivated by the child Gloria’s model of a town: skyscraper, tower, and bridge that is blown away, and then seemingly rescued by her friend Oscar, who then destroys it. As adults, alcohol makes Gloria and Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) into monsters who can destroy this far-off city with their actions. Berlin Syndrome portrays Australian architectural photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer), who is in Berlin shooting GDR buildings for a planned book. We see examples of her work and traverse the city with her until she meets a handsome English literature teacher, Andi (Max Riemelt), who shows her a Schrebergarten colony, miniature follies on the outskirts of the city with tiny gardens sprinkled with gnomes, windmills, and vegetation, used by middle-class Germans in the summer. He takes her back to his East German-era apartment building with central courtyard, which is largely abandoned except for him…where he then holds her hostage. In Rememory, Peter Dinklage plays an architectural model-maker turned sleuth. Chasing Coral, winner of the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary and coming to Netflix, shows how coral reefs are underwater cities and skyscrapers where life can flourish. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the Northeast coast of Australia is called "the Manhattan of the ocean.” However, the film charts how coral reefs are being imperiled by rising temperatures to their death, first by bleaching the coral white and then disintegrating. In 2016, more than 2/3 of the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef died. New Frontier is the Sundance section devoted to art and technology. The most interesting of the VR experiences were Heroes, Melissa Painter’s exploration of dancers in a movie palace and the historic Ace Hotel in downtown L.A., and Saschka Unseld’s Dear Angelica, which creates a drawn, magical universe where we explore loved ones who have died. Also of interest was Hue, an immersive environment of a color-blind man who we help to see color, and the installation Pleasant Places, which displayed Van Gogh’s Provence landscapes. Films and Projects: Abstract: The Art of Design, Morgan Neville, director Aerotropolis, Li Jheng-neng, director/screenwriter Berlin Syndrome, Cate Shortland, director Chasing Coral, Jeff Orlowski, director - Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo, director Columbus, Koganada, director/screenwriter Dave Makes a Maze, Bill Watterson, director/co-screenwriter Dear Angelica, Saschka Unseld, director Gente-Fied, Marvin Lemus, director Heroes, Melissa Painter, director Hue, Nicole McDonald, KC Austin, Tay Strathairn, directors The Nile Hilton Incident, Tarik Saleh, director Pleasant Places, Quayola, director Pop Aye, Kirsten Tan, director/screenwriter Rememory, Mark Palansky, director/co-screenwriter The Worker Cup, Adam Sobel, director
Posts tagged with "Film":
Can you imagine Jeff Bridges playing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? Of course you can. Luckily, for those who bemusingly can't, a film about the trials and tribulations behind Mies's magnum opus dwelling, The Farnsworth House, is reportedly in the works. Edith Farnsworth, the German architect's client, will be played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and van der Rohe will be played by, you guessed it, Jeff Bridges. Completed in 1951 in Plano, Illinois on the outskirts of Chicago, the house was put onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 for its architectural significance. Two years later, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Open to its natural setting, the elevated glass box and its all-white steel structure was viewed as the epitome of the International Style's ethos. The house, however, has a history of controversy.
Famously bearded Mies became embroiled in a fiasco pertaining to the Farnsworth House's finances during and after its construction and was also rumored to be in a romantic relationship with Edith Farnsworth. (Warning, spoilers below.)
The public dispute came after costs overran by $15,600 (roughly $156,000 in today's money), totaling $74,000. This was down to the rising price of materials; anticipated market demand increased with the Korean War looking more and more likely. In the aftermath, Mies filed a lawsuit for the unpaid sum of around $30,000 in construction costs and service fees. Edith Farnsworth, a reputable Chicago nephrologist, then hit back with a lawsuit of her own accusing Mies of malpractice. It was later deemed by the court that Farnsworth had approved of the ever-inflating budget and she was ordered to pay up the outstanding construction costs.
The debacle, however, left a bitter stain on Mies's career. He and Farnsworth were also heavily rumored to be romantically involved with each other. Mies also referred to the dwelling as the "child" of their relationship. More detail on this can be found here.
According to a source speaking to Showbiz411, “Jeff and Maggie have been looking for another movie to do, and this script really appealed to them.” No dates for the film have yet been disclosed.
Tantalizing uses of physical space and the built environment were integral to a wide range of the 44 films from around the world presented at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 54th New York Film Festival. From those that introduce or immerse you in their locales to those where architecture is at the heart of the story, there was a lot to see. In the category of films with distinctive locates, check out:
- Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is set in New York’s Chinatown.
- Neruda follows the poet and politician’s exile in 1948 Chile.
- I, Daniel Blake takes place in bleak, brutalist Newcastle, United Kingdom.
- Moonlight is located in Liberty City, the poor, 95% black community in central Miami.
- Karl Marx City is set Chemnitz (renamed Karl Marx City by East German from 1953 to 1990) and features Soviet-style factories, office buildings, and tower blocks.
- Certain Women is mostly set in rural Livingston, Montana, a small, central casting Western town with only human-scale buildings and no chain stores.
- The Human Surge, where viewers walk behind a character traversing Buenos Aires, Argentina through flooded streets and into houses, supermarkets, and tower blocks before flipping to Mozambique and then an ant colony.
- A Quiet Passion, where poet Emily Dickinson is confined to her 18th century home in Amherst, Massachusetts.
- 20th Century Women is centered in a 1906 Mission-style Santa Barbara house under constant renovation—the ceiling is taken down to its substructure, there's talk about plaster and woodwork, sanding the balustrade, repairing the green tile fireplace.
- The Settlers, which graphically shows, from a drones-eye-view, how the West Bank settlements are deeply—and permanently—entrenched in the infrastructure.
- My Journey Through French Cinema, whose director and producer Bertrand Tavernier shows us clips of his favorites, including The Things of Life (Les Choses de la vie, directed by Claude Sautet) where Michel Piccoli plays a Paris-based architect.
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.
The 8th Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF) launched this week at the Cinépolis Chelsea and runs through Sunday, October 2. The opening night film was Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future featuring, and with cinematography by, Eero's son Eric. Other profiles depict architects such as Marcel Breuer, Gio Ponti, Peter Behrens, Nicholas Grimshaw and landscape architect Piet Oudolf and buildings such as Shigeru Ban’s Aspen Art Museum, the Glasgow School of Art, Dostoevsky's Drama Theater (Novgorod Spaceship), Neutra’s Windshield House, and Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027. We were able to screen a sampling of ADFF films in advance. Here is a brief selection. Where Architects Live (Francesca Molteni) allows us to peek inside the homes of eight architects: Shigeru Ban, Mario Bellini, David Chipperfield, Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Zaha Hadid, Marcio Kogan, Daniel Libeskind, and Studio Mu. We hear them describe their intimate spaces and we voyeuristically come inside their private world. Facing Up to Mackintosh muses on what an art school should be and how architecture can make that possible. Looking for the essence of the school and how the Charles Rennie Macintosh building encourages creativity, the principles are reinterpreted by Steven Holl in his new addition with his use of light and voids. The film goes beyond a conventional documentary by featuring interpretive, cinematic experimentations including unusual lenses, cartoons, and the clever music and sound. Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey shows an artist who chronicled the careers of Frank Lloyd Wright (whom he met at an early age at Taliesen West and had unusual access), Alexander Calder, and Louise Nevelson. Guerrero had the ability to capture their work and essence with environmental portraiture. Bowlingtreff is the strange story of a bowling alley created under the radar in East Germany just before the collapse of the GDR. An exuberantly designed postmodern underground club by Winfried Sziegoleit, with a sensational skylight entry, the remade a 1926 public works building features 14 lanes, cafe, pool tables, and gym. It was constructed by members of the public when funds ran out. Denise Scott Brown and Paolo Portoghesi respond to the place with great delight. Sadly, today it is abandoned and up for sale. Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Film was reviewed by The Architect's Newspaper earlier this year. For full information on the ADFF, visit here.
For a small city, Columbus, Indiana has an impressive collection of modern architecture. Despite a population of only 44,000, the city has works from John Carl Warnecke, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and many more notable modernists. Columbus will provide the backdrop for the feature directorial debut of Kogonada, a filmmaker well known for his video essays. According to Variety, the film will feature Star Trek star John Cho and indie darling Parker Posey. Columbus's modern architecture was the inspiration for the film's story. Kogonada told Variety that "After visiting the town, I felt an immediate sense for a film that would take place there, which would implicitly explore the promise of modernism (an ongoing quest for me). The story revolves around a man and young woman from opposite sides of the world, each mourning the potential loss of a parent.” Cho will play the son of an architecture critic, while co-star Haley Lu Richardson will play the daughter of an addict. The pair finds a bond through their estranged parents and their love of architecture. Posey will play the role of a former student and current girlfriend of Cho's father. The film is currently shooting in Columbus, which has been called the "Athens of the Prairie" because of its status as a mecca for midcentury modernism. The city has no less than seven National Historic Landmarks, and a biennial design exhibition is in the works starting in 2017. Columbus is also the home of Cummins, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation that specializes in engines (see our article on preserving an architectural gem Cummins commissioned.) Considering that architecture is a focal point of both the location and the plot, we can hope to see some of the city's iconic buildings featured in the film. Some likely locations might be the Art Nouveau style Fire Station One by Leighton Bowers, Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church, or his son Eero's North Christian Church, the last building he designed before his death in 1961. Other well-known locations include several of the city's bridges, and Friendship Way, a brick-lined alley with sculptures and neon lights.
Except for two giant antennae, New York's newest film school occupies an unassuming perch atop Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Brooklyn College Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, a 450-student graduate program, is the first film school at a public college in New York City. The building is owned by Steiner Studios, a major Navy Yard business with over 18,000 employees. The 300-foot-long-by-100-foot-wide building, which sits on the National Register of Historic Places, used to be a U.S. Navy building. New York–based Dattner Architects renovated the core and shell prior to constructing the film school, design principal Daniel Heuberger explained. The build-out of the film school, which occupies the fifth and sixth floors, took advantage of the structure's open spaces created by the industrial-sized spans of its column bays. Brooklyn College wanted the space to feel like a "genuine vertical campus," said Heuberger, with blended academic and social facilities to facilitate interaction among students and industry professionals. The nucleus of the program is a sixth-floor forum with a study space and cafeteria anchored by a wide-set stairway that can be used for lounging and reading. A screening room off of the forum dialogues with production spaces on that floor, while classrooms and offices occupy the floor below. Designing a film school was a big learning curve, and the architects consulted industry experts to insure that a bountiful number of programs could be accommodated. "There's absolutely no film left in film, it's all digital. It gives gigantic creative leverage to all students, who before would have had a hard—and costly—time putting together incredibly sophisticated films," said Heuberger. Making a film is a labor-intensive, almost industrial process that requires many people and specialized equipment. Consequently, the building's design discourages the auteur model of filmmaking in favor of heavy student-to-student collaboration: A column-free, 120-foot-by-60-foot hybrid production and sound stage facilitates the making process, as does the motion capture studio, equipment room, a construction shop, and foley room. Digital production produces a substantial amount of data, so the school is outfitted with two internal networks—one for email, one for film—to keep projects flowing smoothly.
The Spear in the Stone at Simon Preston Gallery brings together two works by Amie Siegel: Fetish (2016) and Double Negative (2015). Siegel, who made the film The Architects for the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial in 2014, has taken architecture as the subject of some of her works such as Provenance (2013) and Quarry (2015). Similar to these earlier works, architecture in The Spear in the Stone becomes the entry point to an aesthetic inquiry about the animism of objects and the means by which they attain value. One enters the gallery facing a photograph of the French coast. The photograph resembles an intaglio print and sets the tone for the exhibition, which oscillates between different mediums of film and photography. This variety highlights various aspects of what one might call our contemporary fetishes and how they become apparent in the institutional acts of documentation, preservation, and even cleaning. The first part of Double Negative is an installation consisting of two silent black and white 16 mm films that depict the Villa Savoye and its black replica, the building for the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra, Australia, designed by the firm Ashton Raggatt McDougall. In the gallery space, the projector occupies the center of the room and the two films are projected diagonally across from each other. The two films, initially made on 16 mm stock, are printed on 16 mm stock as negative images. This transfer from positive to negative leads to an abstraction of information and as details become less prominent, the two buildings resemble each other more. As the film itself is exposed to the air, dust, and humidity in the gallery, it presumably becomes scratched and loses more definition every time it loops. The negative print reverses the colors of the buildings. The reversal is further reflected in the environments of the two buildings. The opening scenes of both films display swans, one black (native to Australia) and one white, which are mirrored but at the same time reversed in color. Through these reflections and reversals, and through the loss of definition in the medium, the two buildings become equivalent, no longer one original and the other a copy, but negatives of each other. In The Miracle of Analogy: or the History of Photography, Kaja Silverman writes that the photographic medium did not necessarily develop out of a desire for reproduction and dissemination of sameness, but out of analogy and a desire to make traces and connections by means of images. When located in analog photography, the two buildings open up a conversation that slightly distorts the dominant story of Villa Savoye becoming a sign of Western modernism and being replicated for an institution dedicated to study of "other" cultures. Instead, by treating the two buildings as equivalents, the installation speaks of a fascination with architecture that raises the question: Why this fascination in the first place and why exactly is this architecture seductive? The second part of Double Negative is a color HD video that takes the viewers from the shores of France to the interiors of Villa Savoye and then from the beaches of Australia to inside the Institute, where archival material is being duplicated into digital copies. Here, the film focuses on the material that makes up the archives of the institution and also on the machines and devices that are meticulously recording and duplicating these items into a digital format. As we see a culture disappearing and being preserved by ethnography, we also see former technologies and mediums disappearing and now being preserved by newer ones. The two kinds obsolescence, cultural and technological, follow one another. Which one is more valuable, the actual object and its story in a given culture, or the ethnographic practice that tries to document and make sense of these? Fetish, in its ethnographic definition, is a "material thing with intense spiritual power." The "material thing" is as much a stone as it is the video of an ethnographic field trip that is being digitally duplicated and the "spiritual power" relates as much to a disappearing culture as to the foundations of ethnography as a discipline with its documents, archives, and methods. The meticulous duplication—the attempt to protect and preserve every bit and piece of information that is in the collection—directly contrasts the method by which information is lost in the first part of Double Negative. The hygienic environment of the institute also contrasts with the gallery where the 16 mm film is exposed to air. The next space in the gallery contains Fetish, another HD video formatted as CinemaScope, showing the yearly cleaning of Freud's collection of archeological artifacts at the London Freud Museum. Freud, one of the top theorists of fetish in the modern world, was an avid collector of small archaeological statues, which were displayed on his desk and shelves in his office. In Fetish, lights go on, the camera shoots the different parts of the Freud's office and focuses on the cleaning activity. The CinemaScope format allows tracking shots throughout the video, showing the objects on Freud's desk and shelves. While the tangibility of the objects is captured in the acts of cleaning and the sounds of brushes touching the objects, the visual environment of the CinemaScope hinder the touch. A contemporary version of fetish emerges between the objects and their images. The title The Spear in the Stone comes from an ethnographic video recording found at the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Parts of original recordings can be seen in Double Negative as they are being digitally transferred. With these two works, the exhibition raises the questions: What is our spear in the stone; what are our myths and fetishes; what instills animism in our objects? And furthermore, what is the role of architecture? In this exhibition, architecture is where the seduction begins as an entry point to the object world. A material and spatial practice that is at the same time a sign of cultural predilections and preferences, architecture can also be imagined as the beginning of stories that animate our world of objects.
A new film series at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), dubbed "Midcentury Masters," will focus on several prominent postwar architects and designers, including sculptor and furniture designer Henry Bertoia, who is currently being featured in exhibits at the museum, and his contemporaries Buckminster Fuller, Charles & Ray Eames, and Lina Bo Bardi. The series kicks off on June 16 with Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter. This feature length documentary, narrated by James Franco, traces the lives and careers of the legendary husband-and-wife team and highlights their influence on American art and culture. The 1965 short film Bertoia’s Sculpture will be screened immediately after and will feature a soundtrack composed by Bertoia himself. On June 23 the museum will screen The World of Buckminster Fuller, a documentary about the eclectic architect and inventor; it features extensive interviews with Fuller himself. The series will continue on June 30 with a double feature about Italian-Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi. MAD describes the four-minute long The New World of Lina Bo Bardi as “fan fiction” for the architect: it shows images based on her sketches and buildings. Next, Precise Poetry—released on the year of what would have been her 100th birthday—is made up of an extensive collection of interviews with friends and associates of Bo Bardi. This film series is presented in conjunction with two exhibitions about the work of Harry Bertoia. The Bent, Cast & Forged (running until September 25, 2016) exhibit will show Bertoia’s jewelry, which he began making as a high school student after coming to America from Italy at the age of 15. He returned to the craft when furniture-scale metalworking became prohibitively expensive during World War II. Bertoia went on to design the famous Bertoia Collection for the Knoll furniture company that included the Diamond chair, the success of which allowed him to devote the latter part of his career to sculpture. Bertoia’s sound sculptures are the subject of the Atmosphere for Enjoyment (also running until September 25, 2016) exhibit, which aims to recreate the experience of hearing his sculptures “played” in the stone barn on the sculptor’s Pennsylvania property. Sound sculptures, as the name suggests, are sculptures that make noise when touched or moved by the wind. Bertoia recorded hundreds of audiotapes of his works, which are collectively known as Sonambient. More details on all these films can be found here.
The Whitney Museum of American Art's upcoming Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 will chronicle the ever-evolving world of cinema. Dreamlands, running October 28, 2016 to February 5, 2017, will traces film's evolution across its lifetime, exploring how filmmakers and artists have disassembled and reassembled cinema to create a range of “experiences of the moving image,” as a press release said. The featured artworks will include installations, drawings, 3-D environments, sculpture, performance, painting, and more. The works will be primarily from American filmmakers and artists but some influential 1920s German pieces will also be display. The numerous filmmakers and artists featured will include: Walt Disney, Frances Bodomo, Bruce Conner, Alex Da Corte, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Liam Gillick, Syd Mead, Mathias Poledna, Oskar Schlemmer, Hito Steyerl, and Stan VanDerBeek. The exhibition will consist of three different parts, each showcasing distinct periods of film's technological evolution from the early 1900s to present-day. The earlier works capture a period of experimentation from 1905 to the 1930s when “sweeping camera shots, abstraction, color, music, and kaleidoscopic space were used to create what [film historian] Tom Gunning has called a ‘cinema of attractions.’” The next part of the exhibition displays work from the 1940s to 1980s. Included in this large breadth is CROSSROADS, Bruce Conner’s 1976 short film capturing the July 25, 1946 Operation Crossroads Baker underwater nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific; Destruct Film, a 1967 projective installation by Jud Yalkut which uses the projected light as a sculptural material; and production design paintings for Syd Mead’s 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner. Lastly, the period from the 1990s to present-day exhibit a highly diverse collection of works that demonstrate the introduction and incorporation of more advanced technologies such as touch screen and "virtual space." Also on display will be Factory of the Sun, an installation by Hito Steyerl, originally created for the German Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
In mid-April, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) acquired all 16 films produced by the Italian-French duo, Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine. Their films are part of the Living Architectures series, “that seeks to develop a way of looking at architecture which turns away from the current trend of idealizing the representation of our architectural heritage,” Bêka and Lemoine explain on their website. “This acquisition represents the first inroads for the Department of Architecture and Design into the medium of film,” announced MoMA on their blog INSIDE/OUT. “In the coming years, working with our colleagues in the Department of Film, we plan to continue to acquire films relevant to the disciplines of architecture and design.” In Bêka and Lemoine’s films, there’s a crossover between architecture and urban anthropology. Filmmaker Ila Bêka has an architecture degree from UAV of Venice and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Paris-Belleville, while filmmaker Louise Lemoine has a degree in cinema and philosophy from the Sorbonne, Paris. They self-distribute and publish their own films. In their Living Architectures films, the pair explores the humanity behind our architecture and the daily life surrounding our buildings. Bêka and Lemoine blend video art and the documentary: they observe, they meet, and they interview people. They immerse themselves in the architecture and the lives of those who live and work in these buildings. Perhaps their most famous film is Koolhaas Houselife, which features a Rem Koolhaas-designed residence in Bordeaux through the eyes of Guadalupe, the housekeeper who keeps the house running smoothly. “You see two systems colliding, two systems—kind of the platonic conception of cleaning with the platonic conception of architecture. It’s not necessarily daily life confronting an exceptional structure; it’s two ideologies confronting each other,” said Koolhaas in a 2009 interview with Bêka and Lemoine about the film. Then there is Barbicania. The Barbican art gallery invited the filmmakers to trace the lives of the residents and employees who live and work in the brutalist Barbican Centre and Estate in London. “The first day we arrived in London, we took the map of London and with scissors cut out of the map of London a little square, which was really the permit of the Barbican, and for thirty days…we never went out of that little area,” said Lemoine in an interview for the 2015 Design Film Festival. “The process is to find the keys of intimacy, to find a confidence, an environment that brings confidence.”
The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, now in its 15th year, featured a wide array of films on architecture, art, and design, many soon coming to a screen near you. They range from profiles of artists Maurizio Cattelan, Elizabeth Murray, and Chris Burden to feature films that use architecture in unexpected ways: a futurist feature film called Equals showcases buildings by Tadao Ando, High-Rise is set in a Brutalist apartment block modeled on Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in London, and Tom Hanks starrer A Hologram for the King is sited in new, incongruous modern economic incubator structures in a remote desert locale. Equals, starring Kristen Stewart, portrays the ATMOS collective, a seeming utopia. To create a zen atmosphere that keeps workers calms and productive, the filmmakers chose locations in Japan and Singapore featuring elegant minimalism and lush surroundings that evoke a reborn world. Director Drake Doremus asked “If we could start over and do things right this time, what sort of aesthetic would we create?” They chose the Awaji Yumebutai Conference Center on Awaji Island near Osaka, designed by Tadao Ando, which features the poetic use of concrete; the Sayamaike Museum, also near Osaska and by Ando, where water interacts with light; and Nagaoka University of Technology. In Singapore, the floorplans of Daniel Libeskind’s Reflections Tower apartments were recreated on a soundstage. (Production designer Tino Schaedler trained as an architect and worked for Libeskind). Equals opens with Nicholas Hoult’s character in bed in his spartan, all-white apartment with panoramic views. He emerges, slides the sleeping unit into the wall which vanishes from view. With the push of a button, the kitchen pod slides out. When he gets dressed in the ATMOS collective’s standard cream-colored uniform, the closet pod rolls out. It’s a rational, sleek solution, like living on a ship. However, this is a world where physical contact and emotional bonds are forbidden, and those who have impulses are diagnosed as diseased. Once again, modern architecture symbolizes evil in film. A rather different, futuristic vision is depicted in A Hologram for the King. Based on Dave Eggers’s book, Tom Hanks’s character Alan Clay, in financial distress after the Great Recession of 2008, goes to Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the king. Taking hours-long daily drives from Jeddah to the surreal ghost town KAEC or “King Abdullah’s Economic City” (dubbed “King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade” in the film), we see vacant skyscrapers and half-completed construction projects. Denied permission to shoot in Saudi Arabia, the filmmakers shot in Morocco where they created this new city from scratch, and exaggerated all the elements for effect. Director Tom Tykwer said, “The real place has a handful of big buildings and connecting streets, so we down-scaled that into this absurd kind of roundabout street system that circles about itself.” It is what an aspirational culture deems a prosperous, modern city. What was considered futuristic when J.G. Ballard wrote High-Rise in 1975 was the recently completed brutalist Trellick Tower by Erno Goldfinger, although rather than its true location in West London, the fictional high-rise is located at One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, Docklands. Forming the basis for the film, Ballard’s high-rise seemingly offers all the conveniences of modern life in one structure—swimming pool, school, supermarket, high-speed elevators—but the isolated world has its own social order that quickly degenerates. As power fails, amenities are unequally distributed with the poorer lower-floor dwellers losing out to the richer residents above, culminating in the top floor penthouse with vast private gardens occupied by the building’s architect, played by Jeremy Irons. Bedlam ensues. Shot in Belfast, Northern Ireland, key locations are the Bangor Leisure Centre designed by Hugo Simpson in 1970, the Old Stena Terminal on Ballast Quay whose foyer was inspired by Corbusier, the Ashby Building at Queen’s University and Kilroot Business Park. In another social experiment, graphic designer Stegan Sagmeister turns himself into a design project in The Happy Film. His exhibition Six Things at the Jewish Museum in 2013, originating as The Happy Show at the ICA Philadelphia, began the process. Sagmeister tries to achieve greater happiness by redesigning his personality through three controlled experiments: meditation, therapy, and drugs. The journey exposes deeply personal, raw emotions and realities with failed relationships amid professional successes. The opposite is true of the elusive protagonist of Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. The “Cattelan” who is interviewed is actually a stand-in, Artistic Director of the New Museum, Massimiliano Gioni, in a ruse that is in keeping with Cattelan’s prankish artworks. If you saw his 2011-12 exhibition at the Guggenheim, Maurizio Cattelan: All where his entire output was suspended in the rotunda, and he declared his retirement from art—revoked by his recently announced 18K gold fully functional toilet at the museum titled Maurizio Cattelan: America (and Enter at Your Own Risk—Do Not Touch, Do Not Feed, No Smoking, No Photographs, No Dogs, Thank You, 1994/2016 with its live donkey at this year’s Frieze)—you will recognize this subversive artist. Chris Burden, in an interview before his death in 2015 in Burden, helps illuminate this art maverick, probably best known for Shoot (1971), a performance where a bullet penetrated his arm, and led to his reputation as the “Evel Knievel of the art world.” He moved from 2-D to 3-D to performance art, seeing that motion could push the art forward. The film’s focus is primarily on his 1970s output, with a coda to his last pieces, Urban Light (2008) street lamps permanently installed outside LACMA, and Ode to Santos Dumont his lyrical last work honoring an early aviator that gently flies inside the gallery. Another artist is interviewed in her final days in Everybody Knows…Elizabeth Murray, where the fallout from her cancer is on full display, as she works towards a retrospective at MoMA. Her diary entries are read by Meryl Streep. Other documentaries included The Banksy Job about art terrorist Andy Link or AK47 of “Art Kieda” who steals graffiti artist Banksy’s sculpture The Drinker, a parody of Rodin’s The Thinker; Reset on the making Benjamin Millepied’s dance Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward with music by Nico Muhly, for the Paris Opera Ballet just before his sudden departure as Director of Dance; Strike a Pose on the mostly gay dancers in Madonna’s Truth or Dare tour during the height of the AIDS epidemic; Taylor and Ultra on the ‘60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar featuring Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet just before their deaths; and Artists of Skid Row on an L.A. artist who paints the future he hopes for. Films: Equals, Drake Doremus, director. Release on Direct TV May 26 - June 29, theatrical release July 15 A Hologram for the King, director Tom Tykwer. In limited release High-Rise, director Ben Wheatley. Release May 13 The Happy Film, directors Stefan Sagmeister, Ben Nabors, Hillman Curtis Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, director Maura Axelrod Burden, directors Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey Everybody Knows…Elizabeth Murray, director Kristi Zea The Banksy Job, directors Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan Harvey Reset, directors Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai Strike a Pose, directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan Taylor and Ultra on the ‘60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar, director Brian Bayerl Artists of Skid Row, director Tyson Sadler