Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bechtler film offers a trip to Gehry's world

"I don't just whip up a meringue, you know," Frank Gehry told the audience. He was being good-natured about the fact that a single aspect of his decades of work as an architect -- the swirly contours of some of his buildings -- was getting all the attention. 

That was around 10 years ago. Sheer accident had put me in the right place to hear a talk by Gehry in connection with his then-new -- and only partly swirly -- business-school building at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. After Gehry's quip about whipping the meringue, the interviewer onstage with him changed the subject, darn it, rather than ask Gehry how he did operate.  

"Sketches of Frank Gehry," a documentary by Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack, may supply the answer. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art will screen it Friday, Aug. 17,  as this month's installment of the Architecture + Film series. 

"Sketches" came out in 2006, soon after Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, above, clinched his status as a starchitect. The building is becoming as much a symbol of Los Angeles as the Sydney Opera House is of its hometown in Australia. Not only has  Disney Hall lent big-city glamor as a backdrop for movies, television shows and commercials, but it even is immortalized via spoof in "The Simpsons." Its alter ego in Springfield gets turned into a prison.  

Yet one of Disney Hall's main attractions never gets any mass-media attention. I never knew about it until attending a couple of concerts there a few years ago. On the opposite side of the hall from where the cameras always focus, there's a little park atop the building. 

It's called the Blue Ribbon Garden. It's dominated by full-grown trees that were plucked from around Los Angeles and transplanted atop the building, flanking Gehry's curvaceous steel panels. (The last few items in this Los Angeles Times slideshow offer a glimpse.) 

When I was there, concertgoers stepped out of the upstairs lobby during intermission and strolled through the garden, where the  tropical blooms made a lush counterpoint to Gehry's steel. I hope the little hideaway has a cameo in the movie.