Sydney Pollack’s big-budget fiction movies have sometimes cratered, and his secondary career as an actor has been a rather one-note affair, but with “Sketches of Frank Gehry” he proves himself an amiably homespun documentarian. He offers a portrait of his long-time friend, the famed (if somewhat controversial) architect, that’s pleasant if not profound.
As Gehry notes in the plentiful interview opportunities afforded him by the director, he himself suggested Pollack for the project, and it turns out to have been a good choice. The two men are able to converse easily and from similar perspectives in different fields of artistic endeavor, at times drawing apt comparisons between the demands of architecture and filmmaking. Pollack also nicely assumes the role of a student, effectively playing the audience’s surrogate to give Gehry the opportunity to give what amount to introductory-level explanations about what he does. The director’s questions allow the architect to offer a great deal of autobiographical information while ruminating on the influences that have affected his style. There’s also amusing coverage of the impact psychological analysis had on his career–with his therapist appearing to squelch the idea that he was somehow the master behind Gehry’s transformation from the ordinary to the magisterial. Throughout the architect comes across as an affable guy, though you see the steeliness and intensity in the scenes where he goes to the office to work with his staff on new projects. Pollack’s camera also visits some of his best-known buildings–like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Hall in L.A.–as well as a few of his older, more conventional ones, and his own house, which he redesigned.
“Sketches” isn’t what one would call a balanced portrait: not only are the dark corners of the architect’s life and personality given short shrift, but the footage that focuses on criticism of his work is minuscule compared to that showering him with praise and admiration (from famous clients, art critics, fellow architects and artists in other fields). Still, it’s an engaging, if incomplete, tribute that gives the director, as well as the subject, the opportunity to shine.