Filmmaker Sydney Pollack and architect Frank Gehry are friends, good friends. Gehry deliberately chose his buddy to direct a documentary about his illustrious career. Unlike a traditional documentary, Pollack does not remain hidden behind the camera; instead he is a participant in numerous conversations with Gehry, interjecting his own thoughts about creating art to elicit a response from his subject. Their easy camaraderie sets a light, comfortable tone. The men have plenty in common: two successful Jewish guys in the arts, both in the twilight of their careers, but clearly still at the top of their game.
Sketches of Frank Gehry is much like the conversations between Gehry and Pollack: earnest, on subject, but also relaxed and easygoing. Pollock's intentions as a filmmaker are always clear: he questions Gehry about his childhood, Gehry's not entirely straight path to architecture, and his general philosophy about work. Pollack also interviews admirers--artist Julian Schnabel in his bathrobe, actor Dennis Hopper (conspicuously not in the home Gehry designed for him), satisfied CEO Michael Eisner--and the occasional unimpressed critic who provides a contrarian view of the impact of Gehry's artistry.
Even more importantly, Pollack uses the film to show the a wide sampling of Gerry's stunning work, buildings that seem to defy the laws of gravity. Museums have hosted exhibitions of Gehry's work, including an extensive 2000 retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York, but on film, his buildings exert more of their luminous beauty than in models. Sketches of Frank Gehry is a visual treat, taking us across the globe to see Gehry's most famous structures: the spectacular home he designed for himself, the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and less noted works, including an ice skating rink and a breathtakingly lovely cancer recuperation center in Scotland.
Probably the most famous living architect today, Gehry does not live like a deity, nor take his success for granted. It's fascinating to listen to him discuss his recurring doubts on each and every new project. In one of scene, Pollock observes Gehry and an assistant at work on a model. Gehry removes a cardboard panel, studies the effect, and then rips a cardboard roof in half. "Better," he says.