DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Antonio Gaudí

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  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Antonio Gaudí
    Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1984
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    Running Time: 72 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono Japanese
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $ 39.95

    Release Date: March 18, 2008
    Review Date: March 10, 2008


    The Film

    3.5/5

    Though the title may suggest otherwise, Hiroshi Teshigahara has not made a biographical film on the life of the great Spanish artist and architect Antonio Gaudí. Instead, Antonio Gaudí is a tone poem, a reflective mood piece on the man’s impressive creations produced during his seventy-three years of life (1852-1926) and which still stand and, in the case of one work, are still under construction.

    Teshigahara, besides creating one the world’s great cinematic masterpieces with Woman in the Dunes, was also trained in art, and it’s his artist’s eye which so magnificently captures the variety of styles ranging from Gothic to Moorish to Art Nouveau that distinguish the magnificent, awe-inspiring images that make up this meditation. We see stunning homes, office buildings, churches, and plazas, many individualized by the most sweeping and unusual archways, columns and pillars, staircases, and wrought iron that just take the breath away. In some cases, the works are adorned with impressive frescoes, mosaics, and carvings that further denote their maker’s genius, and all of the structures look like nothing else in their surrounding terrains. These are truly one-of-a-kind creations.

    But the film is something of a frustrating experience, too. Perhaps it’s a sin of expectation or perhaps one has simply spent too much time with The History Channel or watching Biography one too many times, but for someone who knows next to nothing about this great artist and his creations, one would love to see things identified with perhaps some background on how they came to be created (we do occasionally see sketches or photographs of the works) or what period the work belonged to in the lengthy career of the master. Teshigahara didn’t intend for Antonio Gaudí to be a biography (though why he inserted some specific information about the creation of his unfinished masterpiece the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona seems inconsistent with his aims for the picture), but I found it next to impossible to turn off my curiosity and simply let the music and images waft over me. I wanted a fuller, richer, more informative experience. The magnificent photography and the evocative music could have led to so much more.

    Teshigahara does mix things up a bit. There are lots of static shots of the pieces, but just when we think we’re seeing merely a montage of colorful snapshots, the camera begins to move through the unconventional homes or up the heavily adorned walls of the churches, and we find we’re in a real movie again. For the accompanying score, he mixes New Age music with pipe organ sonatas, church bells, and classical pieces. It’s a rich mixture of sight and sound to be sure, and if one is at all interested in some of the world’s most eccentric architectural structures, Antonio Gaudí is a blueprint for true amazement. But don’t watch it expecting to learn anything about the life of the creator or to have any of his works other than the last one identified. You’ll come away very disappointed and unfulfilled.


    Video Quality

    3.5/5

    The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is windowboxed on this Criterion release (though I’d swear the aspect ratio was a bit narrower, perhaps 1.25:1.) Picture quality varies greatly throughout the film. Much of it is enjoyably sharp and colorful with clarity rich enough to denote textures on stone surfaces and wood grains. Blacks are quite deep and shadow detail excellent. But there are some shots of people dancing in a plaza that look like they were taken with a Super 8 camera: soft and blurry. A couple of stray hairs make unwelcome appearances, and there’s a bit of pixilation, too. There is almost no dialog in the film, but the few words that are spoken are subtitled in white that is easy to read. The film is divided into 23 chapters.

    Audio Quality

    2.5/5

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track contains ever-present hiss, and some of the music sounds scuffed and a bit scratchy. Occasionally, the music is also distorted enough to draw attention to itself. Obviously, had it been available, a surround music track would have made this tone poem much more evocative and effective. The varying mono sound reduces the total effect that sound and picture are meant to convey.

    Special Features

    4.5/5

    The first disc contains the original theatrical trailer presented (as is the film) in 4:3 (but with no subtitles). It runs 2 minutes.

    The rest of the supplemental features are contained on disc two.

    Gaudí, Catalunya, 1959 is a silent 16mm home movie taken by Teshigahara on his first encounter with Gaudí’s work in Barcelona while there with his father Sofu. We not only see some of the same structures as in the feature film but also some footage with Salvador Dali and shots of the interesting terrain around the city and countryside.

    Arata Isozaki interview features the designer and architect who worked with Teshigahara on The Face of Another talking about where the famed director picked up his interest in the work of Gaudí as well as Gaudí’s lack of popularity in his own country when Teshigahara began work on the film and how Teshigahara’s father really spurred on the making of Antonio Gaudí. The 12½-minute interview is presented in anamorphic widescreen.

    “God’s Architect: Antoni Gaudí” is a 59-minute anamorphic episode from the BBC’s Visions of Space series featuring host Robert Hughes leading us in and around Barcelona looking at the works and talking about the life of Gaudí. For those like me who knew little of the man before watching the film, this is actually the place to start with this package. I believe enjoyment of the feature film will be greatly enhanced knowing facts about his life and times before watching Teshigahara’s tone poem tribute to the man’s genius.

    “Monitor” is a 16-minute excerpt from the BBC series directed by Ken Russell on the life and works of Antonio Gaudí. It’s in 4:3 and is in black and white but is another good place to start before watching the Teshigahara film.

    “Sculptures by Sofu-Vita” is a 1963 black and white and color tribute to Teshigahara’s sculptor-designer-arranger father Sofu Teshigahara who based a sculpture exhibit at the Sogetsu Institute on Gaudí’s designs. The 4:3 film, punctuated by dissonant music and representing something of a tryout for his later feature film Antonio Gaudí, runs 17¼ minutes.

    The enclosed 37-page booklet features many black and white photographs of Teshigahara and his father in Barcelona along with the designs of Gaudí, author Dore Ashton’s appraisal of Antonio Gaudí, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s recollections of his first trip to the West, and a discussion of what they saw on this western trip between father and son Teshigahara as well as photographers Ken Domon and Taro Hiramatsu.


    In Conclusion

    3.5/5 (not an average)

    The complete package offered by Criterion with Antonio Gaudi presents a mini-history lesson about one of the world’s greatest and most innovative architects and designers. Being a mood piece rather than a narrative film will likely make it more appealing to a niche art market, but there is much to see and hear in this set if one is interested in such historical architecture.

    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC

    [PG]109101704[/PG]
     

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