>A Personal Journey Through The Criterion Collection: Antonio Gaudi (1984)

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We’re back. With little pretense and zero shenanagins, let’s start a new project: Watch every film in the Criterion Collection (550 plus films and counting!), even the out of print ones. I’m less concerned about the supplements/writing about the supplements than I am seeing the films and recording my impressions about them. Depending on how I’m feeling on any given day, I may devote time to the supplements — I hope to try. I will both be watching these in order, and jumping around depending on my mood. I’m a purist, and I believe that films should be seen in the theater, so as I make my way through the collection, I will try to keep my eyes peeled for anything that’s in the collection coming to a theater in Manhattan. Long story short, at the end of this project, I may have covered films a couple of times. These were far too many shenanagins.

#425 – Antonio Gaudi
Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1984 – Japan

A nearly-wordless docmentary-travelogue-exploration of the work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi that also serves as Teshigahara’s defense of humanity to an alien race.

I was just kidding about that last part. There are no aliens in this movie, a film I saw at my second-favorite place in New York, Film Forum. But the film, which IS nearly wordless and IS about Catalan architect and crazy person Antoni Gaudi, seems like it serves that purpose at times. If humanity can create a person so talented and unique as Gaudi, then maybe we shouldn’t get blown up on Independence Day.

I was somewhat skeptical going into this film, as I don’t have as much experience with experimental film, foriegn film, or even documentaries as I’d like. So I was quite pleased to be proven wrong, and that a movie that’s basically footage of buildings with the experimental score of classical composer-celebrity chef-detective novelist Toro Takemitsu behind it can be incredibly engaging and enthralling.

Gaudi’s architecture, largely in Barcelona, was a major influence on the young Teshigahara, and the film includes 16mm footage he shot while an art student. The film works on that level, too — this is one artist paying homage to another, thanking him for the years of creative exploration and inspiration. What’s fascinating about the movie is that Gaudi died in the early 20th century, so there’s no real interaction between the two artists. They don’t go shopping for vegetables or go boxing like on Sundance’s Iconclasts, and the film relies on none of the tropes of a documentary. There’s one, maybe two “talking heads,” no biographical background to Gaudi except when discussing his masterwork, the still-unfinished cathedral that apepars on the box, and even then, only briefly, and the “what’s it all about” voice over that concludes the film…even that’s ambiguous.

ANTONIO GAUDI, then, ends up being one artist exploring another through their work. Gaudi was a large beliver in drawing inspiration from nature, and there are wonderful sequences throughout where Teshigahara shows scenes of children playing among Gaudi’s buildings, or simple life in Barcelona, from street dancing to fish markets, all of which the director suggests may have inspired Gaudi’s work. The fish market scene in particular shows how there’s just as much beauty in a slaughtered fish as there is in one of Gaudi’s crypts.

Gaudi did a lot of religious work — before beginning on one section of the Cathedral that’s featured throughout, he fasted to become closer to God — and one of my favorite sequences in the film illustrates the connection between religion and art, how one can be inspired by a higher power to create, and what beauty can come out of it. Again, this sequence is wordless, save the score, which blends modern experimental tones with traditional religious instruments and hymns, but it’s one I would show to anyone who suggests nothing good can, or ever has, come out of religion.

That’s just my interpretation, though — in writing this, I do realize how it leaves itself open to what you bring to it. I don’t like using florid language to describe movies, but it really does feel like a meditation on the art of Antoni Gaudi, which becomes a testimony to not just his brilliance and passion and madness, but also to the potential of all of humanity. If there’s a theme to ANTONIO GAUDI, it’s this:

“Look at what we can do.”

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