New on the Turner Classic Movies website this weekend is my review of Criterion’s DVD release of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1984 documentary Antonio Gaudi, which is “not a documentary in any conventional sense. There is no profile of the life and education of the artist, no identifying titles of the buildings, no explanatory narrator, and (apart from a few comments in one scene) a single, brief interview about his final work. It is a portrait of the artist, from the admiring perspective of a fellow artist, as seen solely through his art.”
The unusual decision to eschew narration and commentary, to show the work without historical context or biographical structure, gives us a different kind of insight to the work. More than simply a filmmaker, Teshigahara had a long career as a multidisciplinary artist and according to his colleague, architect Arata Isozaki, his work was highly influenced by Gaudi’s use of natural shapes and organic lines. In the film, he makes the point simply by surveying the architecture around Gaudi’s Barcelona buildings and the natural landscape of Catalonia, Gaudi’s home. There is no direct comparison or contrast, simply a view of the worlds in which Gaudi lived and drew inspiration.
Criterion’s new two-disc edition includes Teshigahara’s first Gaudi survey, the 1959 short Gaudí, Catalunya, and it’s instructive to see just how many of those initial images show up again in his 1984 film. What’s different is the visual flow. By 1984, Teshigahara no longer feels the need for insistent editing and dramatic contrasts. His camera captures Gaudi’s rippling organic lines and intricate details with striking angles and revealing variations of close-ups and long shots, all shot in with a camera that drinks in the imagery in still shots and flowing movements and edited into a gentle rhythm. And Teshigahara is careful to include of people working, playing and living within his structures, a reminder that for all their astounding beauty, Gaudi designed these dwellings and public spaces for human habitation. The music by famed composer and long-time Teshigahara collaborator, Toru Takemitsu, combines eerie soundscapes of electronics, percussion and strings (I think I can even pick out a glass harp) with more traditional classical music compositions, slipping from one style to another to fit Teshigahara’s mood.
Read the full review here.