Antonio Gaudi was a Catalan architect whose unique for the time approach to his designs for buildings have brightened Spanish cities ever since his plans were put into effect around the start of the twentieth century. He was informed by patterns in nature and religion alike, and in his work you can see him connecting those two concepts, not merely because he designed cathedrals either, his most famous effort being the partly-unfinished Templo de la Sagrado Familia in Barcelona. This documentary guides us around the creator's most famous buildings, poring over every detail of their exterior in rapturous fascination, unable to tear the camera lens away from each new glimpse of a plane of a wall, or a pattern it features, or some wild growth of creativity...
The director of this meditation on another artist's work was Hiroshi Teshigahara whose most celebrated film was The Woman in the Dunes, an almost abstract work of similarly visually captivation, though that had an actual story to it, and this film was a collection of shots of the Gaudi architecture - mostly buildings, but features of parks as well - with a deliberate lack of narrative. So far did the director eschew any storyline that there was barely any biography contained within it at all, it was only as the film drew to a close that he could not resist telling us a little about the man he obviously so admired, and merely in the form of a snatch of reminiscence from one of the genius's students, rather than a cultural commentator who could set this in proper context.
The scarcity of the life of Gaudi in a documentary ostensibly about him has left some audiences frustrated, and there was certainly a sense that Teshigahara had made this film for himself and himself alone, so he could return to Japan from Spain with an extended set of home movies he could play in private and rhapsodise about to his heart's content. For some reason he felt others would be able to see in the architecture what he saw in them and would have the same, semi-religious experience of casting their eyes over the surfaces he brought to the screen, and in some cases that was true, though that tended to be among those either familiar with Gaudi's output or this filmmaker's body of work or indeed both at once, and witnessing them in combination was a rich feast for the senses.
Well, two of the senses, at any rate, as the expansive visuals were accompanied by a mix of classical and electronic music from a trio of Japanese composers which for many fans enhanced the otherworldly reaction of witnessing Gaudi's buildings and regarding them as being born from an imagination hailing from another dimension or another planet - be that literally or figuratively. The organic designs, which appeared to have sprouted from the ground and grown up in a dramatic flourish overnight (archive photographs reveal not to have been the scaffolding-assisted case), were something akin to science fiction sets and artwork from the nineteen-fifties and after, and that music merely served to underline that impression. This was satisfying as far as that went - if you just loved to see other's holiday snaps then you would be in heaven at the lovingly rendered imagery contained herein - but it was more a jumping off point for further investigation than something that told you everything you needed to know to truly appreciate what this showed you. Antonio Gaudi, the man, the artist, was not simply unique for his own time, on this evidence he was unique for all and every time.
[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with the following features:
High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Interview from 2008 with architect Arata Isozaki
Gaudí, Catalunya, 1959, footage from director Hiroshi Teshigahara's first trip to Spain
God's Architect: Antoni Gaudí, an hour-long documentary from 2003 on the architect's life and work
BBC programme from 1961 on Gaudí by filmmaker Ken Russell
Sculptures by Sofu-Vita, a 1963 short film by Teshigahara on the sculpture work of his father, Sofu Teshigahara
PLUS: An essay by art historian Dore Ashton, a 1986 reminiscence by Hiroshi Teshigahara, and excerpts from a 1959 conversation among the Teshigaharas and others about their trip to the West.]
Japanese director with a background in flower arranging and fine art, whose second film, the surreal Woman of the Dunes, proved an international success in 1964 and won two Oscar nominations as well as the Grand Jury prize at Cannes. Teshigahara made his debut three years earlier with the strange satire Pitfall, and directed a further four films, including the detective story The Ruined Map, before retiring in the early seventies to concentrate on ceramics and experimental film-making. He returned to directing in 1989 with the period drama Rikyu, while his final film was 1992’s Goh-hime. Teshigahara died of leukemia in 2001.