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Sketches of Frank Gehry

Sydney Pollack begins his documentary

The Sketches of Frank Gehry by asking his subject if starting is difficult. Gehry says, "Yes, it's a terrifying moment." Pollack then speaks with another architect, Philip Johnson, about the challenges of capturing the essence of Gehry's work'which is three-dimensional'in the two-dimensional medium of film. Johnson replies, "Oh it's hopeless." So with these two thoughts in mind, Pollack begins his creative project and sets out to introduce audiences to the world and work of Frank Gehry.

Since the two men are friends, the film plays out in an intimate and casual manner as Pollack sits and chats with Gehry and others. The interviews (with the likes of Dennis Hopper, Bob Geldorf, Michael Eisner) play less as talking heads and more like home movie interviews with friends that you hang out with. Because of this approach, the film has a laidback rather than drivingly investigative tone, and it's more friendly than confrontational. Yet Pollack does explore the creative process with some unexpected insights. This is a portrait of one artist by another, and Pollack does come to the film with experiences of his own and with a natural empathy for what the creative process can be like.


For those unfamiliar with Gehry's work, Pollack introduces us to the evolution of his style from early, unspectacular projects done more to pay the bills than please himself, to the bold, audacious projects that have won him international acclaim as well as criticism. Gehry's architecture runs the gamut from audacious and awe-inspiring to pretentious and overblown. One admirer tries to describe Gehry style as the ability to mix the freewheeling aspects of art with the unbending laws of gravity. Another person explains that what he thinks makes Gehry's work so successful is that Gehry understands light. Pollack highlights this for viewers by showing us Gehry's buildings'such as the immense Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao'at different times of the day and in different weather as it reflects the light in beuatiful and fantastic ways. Gehry bemoans the fact that he never became a painter, but Pollack shows us that Gehry has been painting with light for decades.

Pollack also takes us into Gehry's office, introduces us to his staff and observes how a building goes from one of Gehry's freeform sketches to a paper model then a computer rendering and finally a three dimensional, physical structure. It is a fascinating process and Gehry is an amusing guide. Looking like an aging and disheveled cherub, Gehry is likeable yet you can sense that he may be a difficult person to work with.

The Sketches of Frank Gehry (rated PG-13 for language) is a delightful if rather slight film that offers a warm and sometimes insightful portrait of architect Frank Gehry. It certainly lacks the pyrotechnics of the summer action films, but on its small intimate canvas it suggests that Gehry has been blowing up and challenging conventions in his own right. -----