A genuine gem, "Sketches of Frank Gehry," the architect extraordinaire, is a full-blown documentary that frames the personal and the public of the artist born Frank Goldberg in a causal style with Sydney Pollack - who has built his own rep as a tootsie of a director - helming his first full-length documentary.
Banter and flying buttresses - both buttress the framework of this incredibly insightful film that builds from sketches into works of stand-alone art that could only be Gehry's alone - whether it be the beatific Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall - a fusion of fantasia and finesse; or the under construction Museum of Tolerance, in Jerusalem.
The last may be foremost on Gehry's mind these days; as a Toronto youngster, he was subjected to anti-Semitic taunts that taught the artist that beauty in a beast of a world can come hard. Such hell-fueled hatred still shows cracks in the foundation that is memory as he fulminates on life as a child.
It is in the personal back-and-forth in which Pollack also guards his longtime friend's back that the film goes from drawing board to a fully-drawn bioportrait.
"I prefer the sketch quality, the tentativeness, the messiness, the appearance of in-progress rather than the assumption of total resolution and finality," says Gehry, geared to show why on film.
Evincing impacts of his idols and influences such as Richard Nuetra and Frank Lloyd Wright, Gehry rewrites the flight plan on what makes modern-day architecture soar, using tools that his Hebrew school rabbi/teacher once described in Yiddish as the young Goldberg's "golden hands."
From the Soul Up
Gehry builds from the soul up, as is evidenced by his landmark landscapes of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College; and the ongoing Science Library of Princeton University.
A fountainhead of fine modern art on blocks, Gehry has fans and the occasional detractor who find some works more woeful than whimsically wonderful. Indeed, a recent New York Times critique caught him in its cross-hairs for taking commersial commissions on Atlantic Yards and Beekman Street Tower.
Perhaps Southern California strollers are more familiar with his Santa Monica Place which, ironically, proved the earthquake in his echt architectural movement. It was after he designed that proconsumer, practical pedestrian walk-around that he shifted personal and professional direction.
He didn't need a T-square to see that its construction didn't fit his needs to a T. After that building, he quit all assignments done to others' specs and found projects that drafted his heart, mind and talent in a triangle of self-preservation.
Closing in on 80, Gehry is close to final construction of a career as icon, with enough edges and rough spots to limn a life 10-stories high - and Pollack's polyview telling of one of those stories onscreen is that of a sketch artist with all colors at his disposal.