Sketches of Frank Gehry
The center of this bank kind of looks like an alligator head with one eye open.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/12/2006
Director: Sydney Pollack
Featuring: Frank O. Gehry, Sydney Pollack, Dennis Hopper, Esa-Pekka Salonen

In a cinematic landscape full of mutants, Catholic uproar and animated animals (and don’t forget the new Lindsay Lohan film!), the independent film world continues to counter-program with films like “Sketches of Frank Gehry”.

A documentary about the architect of the same name, “Sketches” distances itself from other documentaries by not being so much about the person but about his process and his work.

Perhaps that’s because the filmmaker responsible for putting it all together was Gehry’s friend, noted director Sydney Pollack. Pollack had never done a documentary before and it was Gehry who selected him after being approached by other documentary filmmakers.

The relationship between Pollack and Gehry is usually something you don’t want in a documentary. The point is to try and capture the subject as objectively as possible. However, I think it worked in this case, allowing Pollack greater access and ability to probe into Gehry’s mind.

Another aspect that worked for me was that there isn’t much about Gehry’s upbringing or past. I’m much more intrigued by the buildings themselves. If I want his biography, I’ll pick up a book.

In “Sketches”, Pollack focuses on showing the audience the process Gehry uses to create some of his outlandish designs. We are shown the hand-drawn sketch, the cardboard cutout model, the computer-generated design and the final product.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gehry, or at least which buildings are his exactly, the most well known example is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Other notable and interesting examples are this sculpture in Barcelona, the Disney concert hall in Los Angeles and this building in Prague nicknamed the Dancing House. For my loyal Chicago readers, here’s something you may recognize (though I’m not sure what park it’s in).

Fans of architecture will find much to like in this documentary. As one myself, I found the non-traditional forms and wild designs exciting and I’m re-inspired to do more traveling.

Although this is mostly a nice, friendly documentary about a seemingly nice man with a unique sense of style, Pollack does make the point to voice some of the opposition to Gehry’s work in the architecture and art world.

While the arguments presented felt weak, and I personally just don’t see how you could not be impressed with Gehry’s work, it was nice to see some balance instead of just calling Gehry a genius for an hour and half.

As for the downsides to this documentary, I thought Pollack’s inexperience in compiling and editing what must have been a huge amount of film showed in the end result. Also, I was hoping to see more of his other buildings, both inside and out.

All told, I’m giving “Sketches of Frank Gehry” a 3 out of 5. If you are looking for something without car chases and world-ending pyrotechnics, this is a nice diversion.