The American Architect in Focus

Block Cinema and the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust present a film series that focuses on America’s architectural heritage and the groundbreaking visionaries who defined it. These unique and fiercely independent individuals include a number of Chicago-based architects, such as Wright, Louis Sullivan, and Mies van der Rohe. Our series features new documentaries that spotlight two such pioneers. Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture celebrates the work of one of the nation’s most original architects, while Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner gives a name and face to breathtaking Southern California homes that have provided memorable backdrops to numerous Hollywood films.

In addition, two classic films highlight Hollywood’s fascination with architects (and the apparently lusty lives they lead). The Fountainhead (1949) stars Gary Cooper as an uncompromising New York architect in a torrid relationship with his client’s wife (Patricia Neal), while Strangers When We Meet (1960) features Kirk Douglas as a Los Angeles modernist architect in love with his sultry, married neighbor (Kim Novak). Finally, we’ll present an eclectic program of short films featuring American architecture, including Shirley Clarke’s Skyscraper (1960) and a mid-century “Popular Science” short on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship.

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture

Thursday, October 28, 2010 7:00 PM
(Mark Richard Smith, 2010 US, video, 97 min.)

Though a pioneering genius whose work bridged the 19th and 20th centuries both technologically and aesthetically, architect Louis Sullivan (often lauded as the creator of the skyscraper) has never been explored in depth on film. Director Smith rectifies this glaring omission with grand, sweeping shots of Sullivan’s surviving buildings, which showcase the master’s bold exteriors and colorful, intricate interiors in exquisite detail. Sullivan’s unique, iconoclastic style would influence an entire generation of architects, including his former chief draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright. In person: Director Mark Richard Smith and score composer Michael T. McLean, a graduate of Northwestern University 's Bienen School of Music.

Strangers When We Meet

Friday, November 5, 2010 7:00 PM
(Richard Quine, 1960, US, 35mm, 117 min.)

Larry Coe (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious modern architect who’s building a home for the arrogant, best-selling novelist Roger (Ernie Kovacs). Larry struggles to remain an “experimental” designer while juggling another challenge: his 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. Strangers When We Meet will be presented in a pristine archival, widescreen, 35mm print with thanks to Sony Pictures, and Anne and Kirk Douglas.

Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe

Saturday, November 6, 2010 2:00 PM FREE
(Joseph Hillel, Patrick Demers, 2005, Canada, video, 57 min.)

Featuring interviews with Rem Koolhaas, Phyllis Lambert and his students and colleagues, Regular or Super is an entertaining and enlightening portrait of one of the world’s best-known architects, Mies van der Rohe. Europe lost one of its shining talents when the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus, forcing Mies to emigrate to the US and set up shop in Chicago, where he melded the ultra-modern international style with his bold less is more aesthetic, and revolutionized the modern city.

Preceded by:
A Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright

(Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, 2009, US, video, 19 min.)

A pioneer in more ways than one, 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

Friday, November 12, 2010 7:00 PM
(King Vidor, 1949, US, 114 min.))

In adapting her own bestselling 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 upon publication. When Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) learns that his plans for an ambitious housing project have been altered due to the machinations of an unscrupulous architecture critic, he unhesitatingly risks his life and freedom rather than see his vision compromised. Patricia Neal co-stars as his steamy love interest—who’s also his client’s wife. Archival 35mm print from the Library of Congress.

Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner

Thursday, November 18, 2010 7:00 PM FREE
(Murray Grigor, 2009, US, HDCam video, 90 min.)

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 frequently caught the attention of peers, aspiring architects, and filmmakers (his work provided eye-popping locations for such films as 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

Saturday, November 20, 2010 2:00 PM FREE

This free Saturday matinee showcases an eclectic group of short films and videos that feature American architecture, from Shirley Clarke’s Skyscraper (1960) to a 1940s “Popular Science” short featuring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship, and much more. Total program running time: approximately 64 minutes.

  • Popular Science J1–6 (1942, 35mm, 10 min.)
    This archival short film features various subjects, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture school, beauty aids for women, Professor Oakes’ prune de-wrinkler, and more. Print courtesy of and preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive. Permission courtesy of Shields Pictures, Inc. Produced by Jerry Fairbanks. 
  • Skyscraper (Willard Van Dyke and Shirley Clark, 1959, 16mm, 21 min.)
    Willard Van Dyke and independent auteur Shirley Clarke’s short film Skyscraper is a playful documentary about the construction of the Tishman Building in Manhattan and was nominated for an Academy Award. Print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
  • Lost Buildings (2004, video, 22 min.)
    Originally presented as an on-stage radio & picture collaboration between Ira Glass and graphic novelist Chris Ware, Lost Buildings recounts Chicago historian Tim Samuelson’s childhood obsession with Chicago’s architectural treasures, including Louis Sullivan’s buildings, and his friendship with architectural photographer, Richard Nickel. Permission courtesy of WBEZ and This American Life, with thanks to Chris Ware and Seth Lind. Produced by Ira Glass; illustrated by Chris Ware. 
  • Glass House (Chi Jang Yin, 2007, DV video, 9 min.)
    Glass House is an experimental documentary that examines the creative process of a contemporary American architect, Thomas Roszak, who built a home made from glass and concrete for his family. Video courtesy of the director.