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SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY (director: Sydney Pollack; cinematographers: George Tiffin/Claudio Rocha/Marcus Birsel; editor: Karen Schmeer; music: Sorman & Nystrom; cast: Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson, Sydney Pollack; Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ultan Guilfoyle; Sony Pictures Classics; 2005)
“A lovable softball documentary on a lovable acclaimed architect famous for his controversial unique looping indescribable structures.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lovable softball documentary on a lovable acclaimed architect famous for his controversial unique looping indescribable structures, all of which emerge out of his abstract drawings and models. Veteran director Sydney Pollack (“Tootsie”/”The Way We Were”) is not a documentary filmmaker (this is his first attempt) or admittedly knowledgeable about architecture, but he’s a friend of Frank Gehry and was asked by him to make this film as opposed to others who wanted to. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because the 77-year-old Canadian-born Gehry, now residing in Los Angeles, openly and humorously talks about himself (how he changed his name from Goldberg back in the 1950s because of anti-Semitism, his sessions with psychiatrist Milt Wexler over the last 35 years, being an avid hockey fan, a cubist and an artist first who was influenced most by Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto) and his work (which he demystifies but still leaves room for further thought, as he shares with Pollack the need to achieve personal expression despite commercial aspirations). Pollack as the novice assumes the role of the tour guide who asks the questions those novices in the audience might also ask to find out what the inventive architect is attempting to do and what his structures stand for. For those viewers like myself who don’t know much about Gehry’s work (or for that matter much about architecture) it was good to start on the bottom floor and work up. It’s bad because when we see some of the structures his rep is built on, such as his two most praised works the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall, the filmmaker offers only a surface look and the talking-heads are far too complimentary and don’t add much to our understanding of Gehry’s so-called genius. I came away knowing more why Gehry is so liked, his personality quirks, a sketch of his bio, but not why some art critics have problems with his work. The only detractor was a Princeton University professor and art critic named Hal Foster, who railed against his rep more than about his work. By the film’s end I knew preciously little more than I did before, but I was nevertheless impressed with Gehry’s work and would have enjoyed the film more if it got away from the flood of tributes by those who knew as little as I did and instead took a deeper and more critical look at what he was up to. In other words, the film could have been improved by a more experienced and more objective documentary director who took the risk of probing further and not worrying if he alienated his subject by stepping over sore points he just didn’t want to go into.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”