Dancing About Architecture
The humorist Martin Mull is said to have said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture, an insufficient response to a profound stimulus. Still, I have a powerful response to films where the camera dances about architecture, revealing aspects of environments, both built and natural, that don’t communicate themselves so fully to the naked eye. There are occasions when structures are more eloquent if seen through the sympathetic eyes of a filmmaker or photographer. Structures, like actors, have best angles and respond to careful lighting.
Some cases in point.
My Architect, in which Nathaniel Kahn visits the buildings of his father, architect Louis Kahn, in order to better understand this distant figure in his life. I went to college at UC San Diego, and spent a lot of time at Kahn’s Salk Institute, but I never experienced it as an earthwork charting the the hours between sunrise and sunset until I watched the younger Kahn’s personal essay of a film that suggests the scarring of the building’s cast-concrete face bears a relation to the scarring the architect sustained in a fire during childhood.
The Namesake, Mira Nair’s exquisite adaptation of the Jhumpa Lahiri novel, sets an important sequence at the Taj Mahal,to show how the structure that sparks the film’s central character, Gogol (Kal Penn), to a career as an architect. In a whirl that takes in Taj’s whole as well as its decorative elements, Nair shows how the relationship between a person and a building can be love at first sight. It begins with a first glimpse and ends with a caress of an architectural detail.
The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles’ chronicle of the young Che Guevera’s road trip through South America, stops at Macchu Picchu where Che (Gael Garcia Bernal) looks down from the Incan capital to Cuzco and imagines a unified South America.
The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni’s film in which a reporter (Jack Nicholson) falls in love with a mystery woman (Maria Schneider) amid the tile outcroppings on the roof of Antonio Gaudi’s La Pedrera, trying to find his footing in a structure without right angles or parallel lines.
There are so many other examples I could name, like Frida Kahlo’s and Leon Trotsky’s excursion to the ruims of Teotihuacan in Julie Taymor’s Frida, or the record of Julius Shulman’s architectural photography in Visual Acoustics, or the details of the Chrysler Building in Brian De Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities.
What I want to know, are there movies that have made you see or understand architecture in a new light? Why do you think?