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Film Series Spotlights Visionary American Architects

Block Cinema & Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust collaborate on film program

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October 15, 2010 | by Judy Moore
“The Fountainhead,” adapted from a best-selling novel about a staunchly individualistic architect, will show Nov. 12.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A new documentary about Louis Sullivan, who is often called the “father of the modern skyscraper,” will be the first film in a series focusing on America’s groundbreaking architects. The series is presented by Northwestern’s Block Cinema and the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Featuring new and recent documentaries, classic Hollywood films and eclectic shorts, the American Architect in Focus series explores the country’s architectural heritage and the fiercely independent individuals who defined it, including Chicago-based architects Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Screenings will take place at Block Cinema at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, in Evanston. Unless noted, admission is $6 or $4 with Block Museum or Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust membership, Northwestern WildCARD or student ID.

The American Architect in Focus Film Schedule:

“Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture” (Mark Richard Smith, 2010 United States, video, 97 minutes), 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 28. Though a pioneering genius whose work bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, architect Louis Sullivan (often lauded as the creator of the skyscraper) has never before been explored in depth on film. Director Mark Richard Smith rectifies this with sweeping shots of Sullivan’s surviving buildings that showcase the master’s bold exteriors and intricate interiors in exquisite detail. Sullivan’s iconoclastic style influenced an entire generation of architects, including his former chief draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright. Director Mark Richard Smith will attend the screening.

“Strangers When We Meet” (Richard Quine, 1960, United States, 35 mm, 117 minutes), 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 5. Larry Coe (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious modern architect who is building a home for the arrogant, best-selling novelist Roger (Ernie Kovacs). Larry struggles to remain an “experimental” designer while juggling an affair with Margaret (Kim Novak), a sultry and unsatisfied housewife. Reminiscent of Douglas Sirk’s eye-popping melodramas, “Strangers When We Meet” navigates the suburban mores of postwar America and its preoccupation with a subject the characters spell out in the company of children -- S.E.X. A pristine archival, widescreen, 35 mm print will be shown courtesy of Sony Pictures and Anne and Kirk Douglas.

“Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe” (Joseph Hillel, Patrick Demers, 2005, Canada, video, 57 minutes), 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 6. Free screening. Featuring interviews with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Canadian philanthropist Phyllis Lambert, students and colleagues, “Regular or Super” is an enlightening portrait of one of the world’s best-known architects, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Europe lost one of its shining talents when the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus, forcing Mies to emigrate to the United States. In Chicago, he melded the ultra-modern international style with his bold less-is-more aesthetic and revolutionized modern architecture. The film will be preceded by “A Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright” (Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, 2009, United States, video, 19 minutes). Frank Lloyd Wright broke new ground by training and employing women as architects, treating them as equals to their male counterparts. “A Girl is a Fellow Here” focuses on six women who worked and studied with Wright, including Lois Gottlieb and Eleanore Pettersen.

“The Fountainhead” (King Vidor, 1949, United States, 35 mm, 114 minutes), 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 12. In adapting her own best-selling novel about a staunchly individualistic architect, author Ayn Rand retained the heroic, larger-than-life tone and “objectivist” philosophy that makes the source material as controversial today as it was on publication. When Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) learns that his plans for an ambitious housing project have been altered, he risks his life and freedom rather than see his vision compromised. Patricia Neal co-stars as his steamy love interest -- who also is his client’s wife. An archival 35 mm print from the Library of Congress will be shown.

“Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner” (Murray Grigor, 2009, United States, HDCam video, 90 minutes), 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 18. A disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, John Lautner left an indelible mark on contemporary home architecture with his airy, often playful designs and preference for nontraditional building materials. Though largely unknown to the public during his lifetime, Lautner caught the attention of peers, aspiring architects and filmmakers. His work provided eye-popping locations for the films “Diamonds Are Forever” and “The Big Lebowski.” Director Grigor couples sweeping, lovingly shot tours of Lautner’s most celebrated projects with audio recordings of the master assessing his life, works and method.

“Building Blocks: Architecture Shorts,” 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20. Free screening. This Saturday matinee showcases an eclectic group of short films and videos that feature American architecture ranging from Shirley Clarke’s “Skyscraper” (1960) to a 1940s “Popular Science” short featuring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship and much more. Visit http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/block-cinema/architect.html in November for a complete schedule. Admission is free.

Free parking is available during the screenings on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. For more information and directions, go to www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/visit or call (847) 491-4000. For more on Block Cinema, visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/blockcinema.

For more on the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, visit http://gowright.org or call (708) 848-1976.