Ten films that every architect must watch

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There are many movies discussed under the title of “film and architecture”. These films are categorized in many different perspectives ranging from architect as a major character to structural composition of the filmic language similar to the composition of an architectural endeavor. In my previous article I have discussed about the twelve categories that can be identified in this relationship to architecture and film. In this article I am presenting a list of ten films that are most discussed and included in different academic syllabuses which focuses on this subject matter. These ten film are must see for any architects.

1.The Fountainhead

Director: King Vidor
writers: Ayn Rand
production: USA
release: July 2, 1949
playtime: 114 mins
visual: Black and White
Language: English
Genre:  Drama
Cast: Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith

Though The Fountainhead is not a high class artistic movie comparing to most of the list, but this movie is a seminal work that deals with the pain and agony of an architect, and probably the novel written by Ayn Rand of the same title is the most read story by architects.

2. Metropolis

Film: Metropolis
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang
Production: Germany
Release: 1927
Playtime: 118 min
Visual: Black and White (tinted)
Language: German
Genre:  Sci Fi
Cast: Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Heinrich George, Brigitte Helm

Metropolis is arguably the most influential movie that shaped the future of Science fiction movie as well as the initiator of the discourse around film and architecture. Though the film has a slightly idealist tone but that is understandable considering the time period in which context it was made. But the set designing with its (German) expressionist tone and the vision of a futuristic city was well ahead of time and truly an inspiration of architects of any time.

3. Blade Runner

Film: Blade Runner
director: Ridley Scott
production: USA/ Hong Kong, Warner Bros. Pictures
release: 1982
playtime: 117 min
visual: colour
Language: English
Genre: Action, Sci Fi
Cast: Harrison, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson

If Metropolis is considered the initiator, then possibly it is Blade Runner that popularized the idea of the relation between film and architecture. Its mixture of futuristic architecture with real life existing spaces makes a wonderful background for the characterization of the main players of the story

4. Mon Oncle

Film: Mon Oncle (My Uncle)
director: Jacques Tati
writers: Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange (artistic collaboration) & Jean L’Hôte (artistic collaboration)
production: France
release: 1958
visual: colour
Language: French
Genre: Comedy
Cast:     Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Lucien Frégis, Monsieur Pichard

Both Mon Oncle and Playtime by famous French director Jacques Tati are unique example of criticism of growing Modernism in architecture in the context of the 60s and the fast pacing urban growth that eventually is turning away from its humane character. In this series involving Monsieur Hulot, Tati used many icons of Modern architecture and design and made a hilarious comedy out of them.

5. Playtime

Film: Play Time
Director: Jacques Tati
Writers: Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, Art Buchwald
Production: France
Release: 1967
Playtime: 119 min
Visual: colour
Language: French
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Michel Francini, Jack Gauthier, Rita Maiden, Billy Kearns, Reinhard Kolldehoff

6. My Architect

Film: My Architect: A Son’s Journey
director: Nathaniel Kahn
writers: Nathaniel Kahn
production: USA
release: 2003
playtime: 110 mins
visual: colour
Language: English
Genre: documentary, drama
Cast: Luis I Kahn, Nathaniel Kahn, Frank Gehry, Vincent Scully, BV Doshi, Samsul Wares

In the category of documentary film there are two films that demands to be seen for every architects. One is “Sketches of Frank Gehry” and the other is “My Architect”. I have put one of them in the top ten list though both of them are equally intense in discovering the mindset of an architect. “My Architect” goes further as it rotates around a non architect to discover the realm of a master architect and eventually hits the very base of the subject.

7. Tango

Film: Tango
director:   Zbigniew Rybczyński
writers:   Zbigniew Rybczyński
production: Poland
release: 1980
playtime: 8:14 mins
visual: colour
Language: none
Genre: animation

Tango is one of such movies which will definitely shake the understanding of space in any architect. This short movie of length of only 8 minutes destroys all composition of a single space yet does not violate any functionality. Equally important to study the synchronization of a film events. A must see for all.

8. Castle in the Sky

Film: Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta)
director: Hayao Miyazaki
writers: Hayao Miyazaki
production: Japan, Studio Ghibli
release: August 2, 1986
playtime: 126 min
visual: colour
Language: Japanese
Genre: animation, fantasy

While talking about film nobody takes animation that seriously. If it happens this will be a wrong move as studio ghibli animation along with many contemporary east European experimental animations has gone far away from mere good feeling towards the serious end of film making. Ghibli animations, especially Miyazaki films have been unique in so many aspects that they have become subject matters in studying film. Castle in the sky, along with Howl’s moving castle or spirited away made excellent use of imaginary architecture both to create the dream world set as well as metaphoric characterization of the storyline.

9. Belly of an Architect

Film: Belly of an Architect
director: Peter Greenaway
writers: Peter Greenaway
production: UK, Italy
release: 1987
playtime: 120 mins
visual: colour
Language: English
Genre:  Drama
Cast:    Brian Dennehy, Chloe Webb, Lambert Wilson, Sergio Fantoni, Stefania Casini, Vanni Corbellini

The title of the movie gives a glimpse of the relationship of the film with architecture. But coming to this conclusion will do injustice to the film. All of peter Greenway films (Draughtsman’s contract, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her lover etc) has been unique in arranging the storyline and structuring the filmic language which itself is closer enough to architecture.

10. Star wars series

Film: Star wars series
director: Goerge Lucas, Richard Marquand (VI), Irvin Kershner (V)
writers: Gorge Lucas
production: US Lucas film
Visual: colour
Language: English
Genre: sci fi, adventure

The last movie (better say series of movies) is well known in movie world for its unique set as well as spatial movement on the film screen. Hollywood has produced many such wonderful films that involve super brains of the architects in their production which results into such beautiful spatialization of the scenes. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also worth mentioning here along with other recent films in science fiction genre.


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