DVD Review – ‘Sketches of Frank Gehry’

     August 2, 2006

Review by Richard Toledo

I know what you all think – “Documentaries are boring!” Last year’s over-hyped March of the Penguins pretty much proves that (and Morgan Freeman’s near-comatose narration didn’t help matters much), but Sketches of Frank Gehry is actually half-decent… if you’re into architecture. I’m no expert on the subject and I sort of enjoyed myself. Kind of.

As a man Frank Gehry doesn’t make much of a subject, but the film really takes off when it showcases all of his past work. Those who have been fortunate enough to stroll past the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles know what a work of staggering genius Gehry is capable of creating. I’ve seen it every day for the last 2 ½ years and it never ceases to amaze me. With the Disney Hall—and almost every other structure he’s designed—Gehry gives the illusion that forms hiding within have broken free. His work is defined by opposition his poetic, linear forms stand in stark contrast to the utilitarian structures that these forms envelop. It’s almost as if these forms are embracing their dual nature. In Gehry’s world, form and function aren’t exclusive to one another.

Sadly though, this is supposed to be a review of the film, not Mr. Gehry’s impressive work. As captured by director and first-time documentarian Sydney Pollock (The Firm, The Interpreter), Frank Gehry as a feature-length film wasn’t really necessary. It would have been much better suited as a one-hour segment of the PBS series American Masters. It does sporadically become amusing, yet it only does so when Pollock interviews colorful subjects such as Dennis Hopper (who owns a Gehry-designed house) and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. More often than not, Frank Gehry is much too calm and quiet to make an engaging documentary.

As both a man and architect, Frank Gehry emerges as a walking contradiction, much like the work he creates. His is truly a world of opposites and it is evident in his desire to express feeling with cold, three-dimensional objects. He also says things like, “That’s so stupid-looking it’s great!” The Disney Hall gets thoroughly covered of course, but the most amount of time is reserved for his masterpiece—the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in Bilbao, Spain. He really did deserve a better film than this, but you should check it out if you want to see high art at its best.


The only extra here besides the standard previews is a lengthy, 34 minute Q &amp A with Sydney Pollock moderated by filmmaker Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways). Although it is somewhat interesting, it doesn’t really answer anything that wasn’t already addressed in the film itself (though the audience does ask more insightful and intelligent questions than Payne).

Final Words

Sketches of Frank Gehry is a beautiful, if flawed, living tribute to the greatest architect I’ve seen since Frank Lloyd Wright. It isn’t very exciting to see him in action collaborating with his team, but to see the end results of their labor is breathtaking.

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