Dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara
The last four years have been very good to Japanese art-house darling
Hiroshi Teshigahara. Unfortunately, he's been dead for the last ten.
July of 2007, the name Hiroshi Teshigahara meant nothing to me.
However, that month Criterion released a superb trilogy of films (Face of Another, Woman in the Dunes, Pitfall)
by the Japanese director. It was then that I realized what I had been
missing. I watched the three films rabidly and pored over the special
features and the bonus disc included in the set. Still, I wanted more.
In March of 2008, Criterion again stepped up to bat and released another long out of print Teshigahara classic, Antonio Gaudi.
While not as essential a work as the former three, it is nonetheless a
playful and contemplative film that does justice to both Gaudi's
sculpture and architecture, but also - and perhaps more pointedly - it
distills Teshigahara's filmic vision down to its essence.
viewing this film, I realized that this was the perfect pairing of
director and subject, however unlikely that may seem for those familiar
with both artists' work. Although Teshigahara and Gaudi reside at
opposite stylistic poles, and come from incredibly different artistic
backgrounds, the clinical, though not cold, eye of the director lingers over
the sensual, simultaneously earthy and alien forms of the architect, and
we feel that we are exploring new ground. The long takes and slow pans
that Teshigahara employs force the viewer to see what the director
wants us to see - perhaps the perfect example of the power of cinema to
hold and arrest the gaze of the audience. Teshigahara approaches the
works of Gaudi with a reverential eye, and not only highlights the
stunning forms, but also goes on to create his own sort of art. By
showing in close-up the sinewy and undulating forms of Gaudi's work, he
removes them from their immediate context and renders them abstract,
forcing us to reconsider not only what we are seeing directly on screen,
but their place within the larger work.
for narrating a film with imagery rather than dialogue is again on
display here. In fact, the few brief instances of a character speaking
in the film are rather jarring. The end goal of both architect and
filmmaker is to speak through images and forms, light and shadow, solid
and void - in this sense, Teshigahara, like Gaudi, succeeds wonderfully.
And by contrasting certain scenes at the film's outset - Spain's
deeply religious rooting is shown through church frescoes and
sculptures, and Spaniards dancing in the town square, eating, working,
dealing in the market and generally going about their daily lives presents
the secular way of life - Teshigahara effectively describes a cultural
background rich in both the sacred and the profane, the cultural
background which deeply influenced the work of Gaudi.
Antonio Gaudi, we see many recurring visual motifs, such as the
spiraling, shifting, snaking shapes that so entranced Teshigahara as
well as the entomologist in Woman in the Dunes.
The director seems genuinely captivated by the architecture as would be
any tourist, and even though we have seen the buildings before, whether
in pictures or on-site, Teshigahara's wonder of discovery translates
beautifully and we feel as if we are seeing Gaudi for the first time.
Teshigahara's is a foreign eye discovering and revelling in the forms
that surround him. If you also keep in mind the difference of the
Japanese and Spanish artistic traditions, Teshigahara's austere,
minimalist filmmaking compostions layered over Gaudi's
everything-in-the-mix aesthetic is all the more impressive. Imagine
John Cage or Philip Glass recording an album of Beck songs and you see
where this could have gone terribly wrong.
And speaking of music
(what a segue), the film's otherworldly score that sounds like it could
have been created by Herzog faves Popul Vuh mixes with classical
compositions to set up the works on display. There is often a sense
that we are being taken on a guided tour of a spaceship, or through one
of the many rooms in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
wondering, about 60 hypnotic and awe-filled minutes into the film, why
exactly is it that we are drawn to architecture? Not only Gaudi, but,
to use an example with more currency and relevance to us, why have the
newly finished ROM and AGO structures caused so much hoopla in town? Is
it the superstar architects themselves? Is it simply that we like to
look at pretty things, and consequently feel better about ourselves for
living in a more "beautiful" city? Bragging rights? I came to realize
that Gaudi's work, and as the utmost extension of that, architecture,
sculpture and art, allow me, personally, to see and touch mankind's
capacity for creation and desire to dream. In gazing upon these
finished structures, these living dreams, we can see and feel those
fleeting intangibles, the manifestion of which eludes all but a tiny
portion of us. Teshigahara's film allowed me to realize that, and I am
grateful for the experience.