Tuesday, March 9, 2010

(Book #9) Architecture and Film

As I am already a couple days late in putting together a write-up for this past book, I feel that I should try to keep it on the shorter side. Alas, I'm afraid that it might not be possible, given the amount of content that was in the book 'Architecture and Film'. At the risk of sounding obvious, I will say that the book was a compilation of essays on the various aspects of Architecture and how it relates to or is depicted in films and movies. Having been trained in design and currently working in the architectural profession, I felt like this subject and a book exploring it has the potential to be a great blend between one of the great passions and one of the great joys in my life. I had read a few of these pieces before, but it was interesting to revisit them, having new experiences and perceptions about these subjects.

I had initially picked up this book a few years ago to provide some insight and get some varied takes on the depiction of architecture and architects in movies. This has been a subject that has long interested, amused and baffled me. As it turned out the first essay was on this very subject, touching on some obvious architect films like The Fountainhead and the Brian Dennehy "classic" The Belly of an Architect. It also reflected on movies where the role of the architect played a more secondary role to other actions in the movie, such as The Towering Inferno (Paul Newman as hot-shot 70's architect), Indecent Proposal (Woody Harrelson as desperate for cash architect), and Three Men and a Baby (Tom Selleck as architect with a moustache). The essay gave a brief description of each architect movie, then discussed the various themes and how each was depicted and related to each other. It also gave me a little context and further movies to watch in my own Architects in Film project.

Another essay talked about architecture and film in the World War 2 era (before, during and after) and how the two subjects engaged what was happening in the world historically and culturally through the lens of the Cary Grant film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home. Like these, some of the essays were more successful at exploring the unification of these two notions, while others fell flat. For instance, one piece about "The Beatles and Architecture" couldn't have been less about architecture. Just because the Fab Four filmed their iconic final performance together on the roof of a building, doesn't make it about architecture! Another writer felt compelled to crap on George Lucas for ten pages while making inaccurate Star Wars references. If you are going to write a compelling essay about some of the most widely popular movies ever made, you best know your source material.

I actually don't have too many complaints about the book, there were an abundance of fascinating pieces on classic modernist heavy films, such as Jacques Tati's Playtime, which made up for the lackluster pieces (or ones heavily based on films I hadn't seen!). There were also a few on the architectural design behind and influencing the making of some great movies. I particularly liked one on art director/set designer Ken Adams, who worked on an abundance of highly visual, modern and architectural films, such as many of the earlier James Bond movies and Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

A book like this acts as a good resource for me, pointing in the direction of other architecturally related films either directly about architects or even secondarily about the spaces a film's character may inhabit. As I have long contemplated writing on some of these subjects myself, it provides some reference on ways of presenting ideas that are similar in vain, but also how not to write about them! It also offers a variety of perspectives on how to watch these genres and on some of the underlying themes of similar films. The best way of grasping a lot of these themes, however, is not by merely reading about them, but by experiencing the films as they were meant to be experienced… by watching them.

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