Proving that even the most normal looking fellow can come from significantly screwy roots, Nathaniel Kahn's intensely personal My Architect is an intriguing journal of paternal discovery.
Though Kahn, son of famed twentieth century architect Louis Kahn, isn't dipping into Capturing the Friedman's territory or the land of Grey Gardens (his family isn't that scandalous or fabulously strange) he, nevertheless, dissects the elusive, questionable acts of his very private late father. The result is a film that's moving--personally and architecturally speaking--and frequently frustrating—Kahn, realistically, just cannot get all his questions answered.
Louis Kahn, regarded by many as one of twentieth century's more important architects, died of a heart attack in 1974, alone and in the men's room at Penn station. Nathaniel was only 11 years old and living with his mother in Philadelphia. An occasional presence in Nathaniel's life, Louis would visit sporadically, usually in between his almost frantic need to travel the world, commission new projects and generally, inspire himself to do more. Kahn, who's design for the Salk Institute and the Capital Complex in Bangladesh are considered visionary (by the likes of Frank Gehry) was obsessed with his work, to the point of leaving things like debts, unfinished projects and unattended family members by the wayside.
For not only did he die in debt, but he left a legacy of three children by three different women. Nathaniel goes through his father's life, his desires to become an architect, his relationships with his wife and mistresses (including Nathaniel's mother—a hopeless romantic according to her more sensible sisters), interviews step siblings, his father's peers and fans and visits some of Louis's more beautiful creations. Oftentimes, the mere mention of his father's name brings out waves of emotion in people Nathaniel's never met before—some wistful others angry (chiefly Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon who goes on a hilarious tirade).
The film works in that Nathaniel never falls into a victim hold of blaming his father but rather, studying him, with open emotions. Certainly saddened by the lack of fatherly love in his life and upset that his mother spent her years pining over one man who never married her, Nathaniel wants to know what motivated Louis as an artist and a man. Transferring his personal quest to us, he in turn, exposes the viewer to architecture in a less clinical manner—there is indeed, a man behind those buildings and there is a reason he created them. Fascinating and heartfelt, My Architect manages to feel small and immense all at once.
New Yorker Films presents My Architect in 1.33:1 full-frame. The quality is good, which is important since there's a lot of older footage, photographs and buildings to present. You want these to be as clear as possible.
The audio came in Dolby 2.0 and is very clear. Both soundtrack and talking heads resound without any problems.
I wish there had been a few more extras on this disc, but that's a minor quibble. The Q&A with director Kahn is an interesting way to set up the deleted footage—some I wish had been in the movie. Also the supplemental booklet is a terrific addition (why can't more DVD's grant this?) with photos and quote from Louis Kahn.
My Architect is a sad movie, but inspirational and funny as well. You won't come away with a clear picture of Louis Kahn and you won't know exactly what made him tick but the film is all the better for it. Its mysteries are not entirely unearthed making the story even more dramatic and artfully enigmatic.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun