Home Video Hovel: Antonio Gaudi, by David Bax
When you go to an art museum, the main thing you’re there to do is look at the art, right? At least, that’s how I go to an art museum. Outside of the names of the work and its creator and maybe the year it was completed, I’m not looking for that much background data. In that sense, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Antonio Gaudí (out now on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection) is the perfect art documentary for me. Eschewing any and all biographical information, Teshigahara instead spends a little over an hour marveling along with us at the works of Gaudí in the context in which they existed in the mid-1980s.
Gaudí’s architecture is unmistakable. Seemingly building off of the oft-repeated (but incorrect) assertion that there are no right angles in nature, he exaggerates “natural” curves and undulations until the result looks like it doesn’t come from this world at all, making it almost humorously confounding to see his buildings being used as modern apartments and concession stands. For a more recent (and, for me, local) comparison, Simon Rodia’s so-called “Watts Towers” seem to have been influenced by Gaudí. But, as for Gaudí’s own inspiration, Teshigahara revealingly includes shots of towering rock formations that remind us our natural world is more varied than we sometimes remember.
Still, Antonio Gaudí is dedicated to underlining the strange and abnormal impressions of its subject’s work. An ominous, almost horror movie-ready score accompanies these wordless ruminations. Meanwhile, Teshigahara’s camera shoots in an intentionally disorienting wide angle lens, sometimes moving in two directions at once–dollying backward while panning right, say–in a way reminiscent of Terry Gilliam.
In this way, Teshigahara is not just contextualizing Gaudí’s work but re-contextualizing it. We’re not just looking at art, we’re looking at it through someone else’s eyes. Antonio Gaudí is like a coffee table artbook given life and self-awareness. It’s a masterpiece of cinema about masterpieces of architecture.
Criterion’s transfer comes from a 35mm low-contrast print that’s remarkably clean though there’s some picture softness that occasionally gives the film a made-for-TV look. The mono audio translates the score well; there’s almost no speech in the entire feature.
Special features include an interview with architect Arata Isozaki; footage shot by Teshigahara in Spain in 1959; a documentary on Gaudí (for those who do want that touch of biography); a Ken Russell BBC program about Gaudí; a short film by Teshigahara on the work of his architect father; and a booklet containing an essay by art historian Dore Ashton and multiple written accounts by Teshigahara and his family.