Architecture plays an essential role in a number of iconic films. Think: The Dakota in “Rosemary’s Baby” and the Vandamm house atop Mount Rushmore in “North by Northwest.”
Diane Keaton’s character in “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003) lives in a beachfront Hamptons estate spectacular enough to earn a spread in Architectural Digest.
At the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s Modernism + Film series architecture is always the star.
Since its 2011 inception, the series has presented more than 70 films about design, architecture and modern and contemporary art. Developed in partnership with the Charlotte chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture, Modernism + Film takes place one Thursday each month, except in December.
The niche series is surprisingly well-attended. The average audience numbers about 100 people, although the Bechtler’s director of programming and public engagement, Daniel Ferrulli, said there’s usually one film each season that turns out to be a blockbuster and attracts twice that many.
Last August, that film was “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America.” It drew 250 film and landscape architecture fans to the Wells Fargo Auditorium below the Knight Theater.. Olmsted designed not only Central Park, but the Biltmore House. gardens.
“I.M. Pei: Building China Modern” holds the record as the most popular movie in the series. The August 2017 screening sold out all 292 seats. A few of Pei’s noteworthy designs: The Louvre pyramid, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, the Four Seasons hotel in New York, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. As architects go, he was a rock star.
Fans help choose the movies that will be screened. Ferrulli develops a slate of films each year that looks promising. “I’m looking for what’s new,” he said. “I want each season to feel fresh. I’m not too picky about if the film focuses on an individual architect or a project.”
Next, he sends a survey to people who have attended Modernism + Film within the last two years. Their votes determine the 10 films that comprise the next season.
Most are documentaries, although occasionally Ferrulli finds a feature worthy of inclusion. “Final Portrait,” starring Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer in a story written and directed by Stanley Tucci about the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, was a recent one.
Artists and architects have long been fascinating subjects for literature and film.
Architects are right- and left-brain thinkers. They’re engineers and artists, which makes them rational and dreamy. Equal parts head and heart. In a 2012 story on “The 10 best fictional architects,” The Guardian noted: “The film business has a taste for identifying male leads as architects to suggest a particular combination of responsibility and sensitivity.”
Night at the movies
There’s always an introduction to the film to provide context. Scholars, urban planners, architects, art historians and film experts have done the honors. Knowing something about the film, the era, the architect enhances the movie-going experience and gives the audience something they can’t get on Netflix.
Ferrulli used to engage speakers to lead a discussion after the film, but he’s scaled that back in recent years. And for a practical reason. “Documentaries have gotten longer,” he said. “They used to reliably clock in at about 45 minutes or so, so there was time for a debrief after the movie. Today, documentaries are more likely to last for an hour and a half to two hours.” And that’s a long enough sit, Ferrulli thinks.
The majority of people in the Modernism + Film audience are Bechtler Museum members, Ferrulli said. But they’re not all architects. There are almost always students in the audience, as well as people who aren’t in the design field but have an interest in modern architecture and good design. If you like HGTV or obsessively pin on your interior design Pinterest page, you may be the right demographic for the series.
All are welcome
You needn’t know anything about modern architecture to enjoy many of the films. Even those who’d never heard of the great architect Louis Kahn would’ve likely been riveted by “My Architect: A Son’s Journey,” the 2003 documentary by and about his son’s search for answers after his father’s ignoble death. The architect of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in the middle of the East River in New York and — his masterpiece — the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, died bankrupt and alone in Penn Station after a celebrated career.
The acclaimed film was remarkable in its exploration of the differences that can exist in a public and private life. A Des Moines Register critic called it “a conversation between the living and the dead, trying to reconcile professional genius with personal failure.”
Charlotte audiences would’ve had no way to see this moving elegy on the big screen, if not for Modernism + Film.
In a city that doesn’t always enthusiastically support independent cinema, the Bechtler’s film series stands out as a long-running success. Architecture can have star power.
Bechtler Film Series
What: The 2019-2020 season of the Bechtler Museum’s Modernism + Film series kicks off at 6 p.m. Aug. 22 with the documentary, “Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus.” The final film in 2018-19 series, “Art House,” is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 20.
When: Each film begins with a 6 p.m. reception with light bites and a cash bar. Film screenings begin at 7 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Auditorium below the Knight Theater.
Tickets: $10 for the public, $8 for museum members, $5 for students. Buy online at bechtler.org, by phone at 704-353-9200 or at the admission desk.
2019-2020 Series Schedule
Aug. 22 - “Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus”
Sept. 26 - “Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect”
Oct. 17 - “Enough White Teacups”
Nov. 21 - “Face of a Nation: What Happened to the World’s Fair?”
Jan. 16, 2020 - “Doshi”
Feb. 20, 2020 - “Frank Gehry: Building Justice”
March 19, 2020 - “Frey: Part 1 - The Architectural Envoy”
April 16, 2020 - “Renzo Piano: The Architect of Light”
May 14, 2020 - “SuperDesign”
June 18, 2020 - “The Gamble House”
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