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Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West - 2 Disc Special Edition
Note: Two DVD releases centered around Frank Lloyd Wright have just been sent to me for review. The two share some similar content, if slightly different focuses. Some non-content specific information is therefore repeated in both of my reviews.
Frank Lloyd Wright stands alone and apart from even the most distinctive American creators in any artform. Stubbornly singular, brilliantly inventive, and able to craft gasp-inducing beauty seemingly at will, Wright nonetheless weathered storm after storm in his personal life, something that tended to make him be branded, at least temporarily, as a charlatan and opportunist. And yet his contributions to the art and science of architecture are so overwhelming that very few if any have ascended to the world-renowned heights he enjoyed for most of his adult life, and which has only grown in the many decades since his death.
Anyone who muddled through Ayn Rand's epochal The Fountainhead could have little doubt that her iconic architect hero Howard Roark was at least partially modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright. If Wright was less Gary Cooper and more Gary Moore, countenance wise, anyway, his intellect and fierce individuality was certainly Randian, if not Objectivist. Looking at the Greek influenced architecture that made up a lot of late 19th century Americana, something which Rand wasn't alone in decrying, and then seeing Wright's brisk modernist touch virtually sweep it all away in a few years is nothing short of amazing.
Taliesin West is actually a somewhat misleading title for a DVD which has its longest feature recounting the ins and outs of Wright's life. Told by Wright archivist Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, this is a good overview, if not quite as illuminating as the superb PBS American Masters on Wright was a few years ago. Pfeiffer, obviously bowing in deference to his mentor, tends to gloss over some of Wright's more questionable decisions, especially with regard to the ending of Wright's first marriage and later the controversial choices he made regarding his Taliesin Fellowships. What the main documentary does provide is a nice generalist review of Wright's life, full of some beautiful footage of Wright's masterpieces, as well as some fun archival footage of the master himself at various points of his life. You get all the basics here--Wright's birth and upbringing in Wisconsin, his move and first blush of success in Chicago, the bleak intervening years around the Depression, and then his artistic rebirth starting in the late 1930s and 1940s and lasting until he died.
The shorter piece on the DVD is devoted to Taliesin West, the "second" Taliesin compound that Wright built in the Arizona desert relatively late in his life, after the disastrous fires that twice destroyed at least part of the first Taliesin in Wisconsin. This shorter piece is somewhat narrower in focus, but does an admirable job in showing the incredible engineering innovations, not to mention the jaw-droppingly beautiful design, that Wright brought to this project.
There is both an up side and, unfortunately, a pretty marked down side to having Pfeiffer as the host and narrator of both of these pieces. The big plus is that Pfeiffer knew and worked with Wright himself, and brings an insider's knowledge to both pieces, imparting them with the sort of casual authority that only a first-hander ever acquires. What ultimately at least partially sinks this outing is Pfeiffer's extremely peculiar idiolect, which makes him virtually unintelligible at times. I stopped and replayed so many segments in both of the documentaries in order to try to understand what Pfeiffer was saying that I ultimately lost count. It became alternately extremely frustrating and actually funny. He would start a sentence out more or less understandably, and them simply devolve quickly into linguistic mush, where individual words simply could not be differentiated. It makes this particular release a bit of a chore to sit through, even though one wants to very badly, as what information you can understand is so compelling. These documentaries would have been much better served by a professional voice over artist, as was done in the other Wright documentary set (Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio) which I just reviewed.
Much like the other Wright piece I reviewed, Taliesin West's enhanced 1.78:1 image is acceptable, if on the soft side, and hampered by the same aliasing issues I mention in the other review. There's more archival footage and stills in this set, some of which are, obviously, not in the best of shape. The contemporary segments with Pfeiffer are suitably sharp, with decent enough color.
There are no soundtrack issues per se in this standard stereo mix. It's just that Pfeiffer is so damnably hard to understand at times, and the lack of subtitles to clarify what he's saying is doubly frustrating.
Another stellar photo gallery augments this DVD, as it does the DVD of the other Wright set I reviewed. The best bonus, again as with the other set, is the supplementary CD-ROM, which similarly provides an amazing interactive tour of Taliesin West, one of Wright's most stunningly beautiful and innovative designs.
If you only have one Wright documentary to see, make it the other one I reviewed (Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio), which is professionally voiced and much easier to get through as a result of it. This double feature has a lot of good information, most of which was handled a bit more analytically in the PBS American Masters on Wright. Pfeiffer obviously knows his stuff, but he needs to take some elocution lessons. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet