Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005) DVD

“You can look anywhere and find inspiration.”

—- Frank Gehry

The past couple of months I’ve been tied down with previewing films for an upcoming International Film Festival that I haven’t time to watch films of my own choosing.  The past weekend I decided to cease the dry spell and watched the DVD I’ve purchased for a long while but haven’t the chance to view.  My only regret: Why did I wait so long?

This is a documentary about and made by two of my favorite artists:  Architect Frank Gehry and film director Sydney Pollack (Best Director 1985, Out of Africa), whom I sadly miss upon his untimely passing on May 26.  (To read my tribute to Sydney Pollack, click here.) Pollack worked on this film, his first documentary, over weekends
for about five years.  An official selection at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Sketches of Frank Gehry is his last directorial work.

Pollack has taken a simple and casual approach to present his long time friend Frank Gehry to the viewer, and that’s what impresses me.  The low-key yet artistic design of the film is a modest portrait of the architect whose body of work is often associated with rule-defying, bold and striking structures around the world.

Born 1929 in Toronto, Canada, Gehry moved to the United States with his family in 1947. His career spans four decades, establishing himself with renowned projects such as the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (1997), the Vitra Design Museum, Germany (1989), and more recently the Walt Disney Concert Hall, L.A. (2004). The personal and unpretentious portrayal of the architect brings out the mild and human side behind these massive physical structures.

Through informal dialogues, the filmmaker effectively captured the essence of artistic pursuit: the self-doubt during the creative process, the incubation and collaboration of ideas, the uncertainty of the soundness and appeal, and the ultimate exhilaration of the successful completion and reception of the work. Interestingly, the film works like a double-edged sword.  It explores the creative process of both the subject and the filmmaker.  And it is such revelation that makes the documentary so appealing.

In the beginning was the void:

Sydney:  Is starting hard?

Frank:  You know it is… I’m always scared that I’m not gonna know what to do.  It’s a terrifying moment.  And then when I start, I’m always amazed, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.”

The veteran director had his uncertainties as well:

Sydney:  Several people approached him with the idea of making a documentary about him.  And when he asked me if I’d do it, I thought he was crazy.  Not just that I didn’t know anything about making documentaries, I don’t know anything about architecture.

“That’s why you’re perfect,” he said.

Maybe all our training and experience that we hang on to so dearly are impediments to a fresh, new perspective.

The film gives us the insider view of the Gehry creative process.  It is a collaborative effort involving inputs from design partners mulling over paper models and computer expertise transferring concepts to 3D digital mode. Despite the elaborate and sometimes long incubation period, every piece of work begins with the architect’s own signature squiggles on a blank piece of paper.

We see Pollack using a hand-held digital camera to capture more agile and personal shots. As the title suggests, the filmmaker interviewed and chatted with various artists, architects, critic, and even Gehry’s therapist to gain different perspectives into the heart and mind of the architect.  He was able to elicit some insightful comments.

Writer and curator Mildred Friedman has this to say about Gehry:

He’s an architect who’s also an artist.  He takes so many risks.  And that’s what artists do.  Artists take risks to do something new that no one has seen before.

Gehry’s therapist Milton Wexler:

A great many people come to me hoping they can change themselves, settle their anxieties, their problems, their marriage or whatever…  When an artist comes to me, he wants to know how to change the world.

And from Pollack, when talking about the epic and mythical Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain:

He sees that the whole reason for being an artist is that moment in somebody’s eyes when you reach him.

The nay-sayer is represented by Hal Foster, Professor of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, who criticizes Gehry of making a spectacle of his work.  We also see montage of printed words from the media, such as “ugly”, and even “perverse”.

Responding to criticisms about Gehry’s galleries and museums competing with the very exhibits they showcase, Julian Schnabel, artist and filmmaker (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007), defends Gehry’s design with this audacious sum up:

I feel very comfortable in his spaces.  He understands scale.  And if it does compete with the art, maybe that art isn’t good enough.

Such thought-provoking comments are just some ideas one can mull over long after the film.

I must also mention the original score composed by Sorman and Nystrom.  Like a soothing balm, it is pure delight looking at Gehry’s fluid designs with the equally flowing and meditative musical rendering.

The special features on the DVD include a bonus 35 minutes interview and audience Q & A with Sydney Pollack at the L. A. Premiere of the film.  The icing on the cake, this feature offers Pollack’s reminiscence of the production and more thoughts on the creative process.  A valuable DVD to keep for anyone interested in the artistic expression of the human mind.

~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

A note on the photos:  Arti has the pleasure of visiting two of Frank Gehry’s work.  The above photos are taken by Arti in October 2007 and February, 2008. The first two are the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A.  The last two are different views of The Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  All Rights Reserved.

The source for the squiggles image:  Maclean’s Magazine.

Published by


If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

11 thoughts on “Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005) DVD”

  1. a) I am eagerly awaiting this fall’s unveiling of the Gehry’s new AGO.

    b) Persuasion is by far my favourite Austen. What are your insights?

    c) And, landing on your blog made my day!


    Hi, Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I’m excited to see the new AGO too… last time I was there about 5 years ago, I bought a Frank Gehry squiggles T-shirt for my son… and he’s still wearing it today.

    After I’ve done Persuasion, I probably would post something about it… but I’ve got some other items I’d like to get to first. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my blog. Again, thanks for your encouragement!



  2. Thank you for stopping by the errant aesthete.

    I should begin by saying I’ve seen ‘Sketches of Frank Gehry,’ and in light of the recent death of Sydney Pollack, its significance as both a testimonial to creativity and inspiration, as well as a moving tribute to not only Gehry, but Pollack as well, two towering geniuses of art in the prime of their lives will only add to the allure and fascination of this small gem of a masterpiece in years to come.

    You have done an aesthete-worthy job of capturing the essence of this very thought-provoking and nuanced film. While the angst of the artist always provides an interesting backdrop, a psychological probe into the mystery and madness of creation that Gehry more than fulfills in his role as enfant terrible, it is to my mind, the dynamic between two prominent and exalted talents, equally gifted, uniformly matched, icons of celebrity in their own right, taking on this tenuous role of interviewer and subject that is most illuminating. To witness one of the most outstanding directors of this generation humbly following one of the preeminent architects in the world today armed with a hand held camera while discussing the topic of their unworthiness for the task at hand, Pollack’s as a documentary director and Gehry’s as a “terrified” artist, is to glimpse creative risk taking at its epochal best.

    Your analysis of Pollack’s pure and unpretentious rendering of Gehry as a “modest portrait,” is a refreshingly simple alternative to the larger-than-life personality we’re accustomed to, whose groundbreaking work has deemed him a legend many times over. One almost had the feeling that we, the audience, enjoyed the guilty pleasure of watching two good friends share the easy comfort of their own company away from the unforgiving and relentless media glare of lights, press, and paparazzi.

    I think it’s clear to any reader that you relished the material, including everything from historical background, architectural achievements, personal quotes, comments from friends, acquaintances, competitors, even his own therapist weighed in. The use of Gehry’s “signature squiggles” was a nice touch, too, relevant and revealing of the man himself. You even went so far as to provide your own photography!

    A memorable film, a noteworthy and impassioned review wonderfully crafted by someone who clearly respects, even reveres his subject.

    the Errant Aesthete


  3. the Errant AEsthete:

    Thank you for sharing your eloquent response to the film “Sketches of Frank Gehry”, as well as your kind words regarding my review. You have brought out a few more relevant insights to make my review more complete.

    You have pointed out aptly, and I feel that I have not emphasized enough, the humility behind these two artists. That Pollack had chosen to make a personal and modest production and that the world renown architect was willing to be interviewed in such a way to expose his own vulnerability speak volumes to their humility. Even though the term “modest celebrity” is an oxymoron in itself.

    Further, the film is a testimony to an admirable friendship between two artists who genuinely respect each other’s work. Truly a pleasure to watch.

    Thank you again for stopping by and leaving your articulate and thoughtful comment.



  4. Arti,

    This is a wonderful post. I responded once, and deleted my own post somehow. I must stop trying to do things in the middle of the night.

    Now, I have just finished reading the response by the Errant Aesthete, and believe I’ll have supper before trying to add any comments of my own.
    It’s stimulating stuff, for sure, and I’ve enjoyed several reads of it.

    Now. I’ll try not to delete this, and be back in a bit.



  5. Arti,

    There’s no experience in the world quite like reading the words of a creative genius like Frank Gehry and being reminded of your own.

    I was stopped in my tracks when I read the quotation from Mr. Gehry at the top of your review – “You can look anywhere and find inspiration.” When I wrote my short “paradigm for blogging”, the first step of the process I outlined was noticing.

    As I put it, “So first of all: look. Open your eyes and your ears. Be receptive to what you see around you, and what you hear people saying. Look for the odd, the unexpected, the commonplace that isn’t even seen any longer because it is so common. There’s enough (inspiration) in the world to keep us all going for lifetimes.”

    The trick, of course, is holding to the vision once that “something” has been noticed, and finding a way to embody it in the world. It is at this point that artists with a degree of humility and a willingness to speak to their difficulties with the creative process can be of such comfort to the world of “hidden artists” which exists.

    To hear Frank Gehry say, so simply, “I’m always scared that I’m not gonna know what to do” is both astonishing and healing. To be reminded by Sydney Pollack of Gehry’s intuitive understanding that “the whole reason for being an artist is that moment in somebody’s eyes when you reach him”
    is a testament to both men’s sensitivity to art as communication on the deepest levels of the soul.

    On the other hand, I found a moment of sheerly personal hilarity buried within your review, at the point where Pollack reflects on Gehry’s request that he film the documentary:

    “… when he asked me if I’d do it, I thought he was crazy. Not just that I didn’t know anything about making documentaries, I don’t know anything about architecture. ‘That’s why you’re perfect,’ he said.”

    Lack of knowledge and experience as the “perfect” qualifications for making art? It could be that you’re exactly right when you say “Maybe all our training and experience that we hang on to so dearly are impediments to a fresh, new perspective.”

    Excellent and thought-provoking. Now, I’ll be looking for the DVD!


    You know Linda, I wrote this post with your “The Surprise of Tiny Purple Things” in mind. I know Gehry and Pollack would strike a chord in any artist’s heart. I’m glad you find inspiration and confirmation in their openness and humility.

    Yes, you must get hold of the DVD. There are lots more to treasure that I can’t possibly mention them all in one post. And yes, what a wonderful world we live in…



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