The theme for this year’s inaugural Architecture Film Festival London is Scale.
Discussion surrounding the relationship between film and architecture is often focused upon visual, narratological, or even tactile modes of experience. However, the programme for this year’s festival will explore the idea that there is a far more fundamental—if consistently overlooked—common ground shared between these two interrelated arts: scale.
Whether we want to consider films made by architects—such as Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten—or architecture designed by filmmakers—such Jacques Tati’s Playtime set known as Tativille—there are myriad examples of the ways in which scale (a constant and independent preoccupation of both disciplines) comes to the fore when the arts of cinema and architecture interact and overlap with one another.
The programme for the 2017 Architecture Film Festival has therefore been arranged around the theme of scale, from micro to macro. Through this, we hope to unlock and provoke new ways of framing architecture’s relationship with cinema, in a world where accelerated technological and political change renders collaboration between these two disciplines even more critical, and even more exciting.
BARGEHOUSE – Wednesday 7th June 2021
Films set within a single room
LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD
Dir. Louis Malle, France, 1958
French with English subtitles
Starring Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as criminal lovers whose perfect crime begins to unravel when Ronet is trapped in an elevator, Lift to the Scaffold is widely considered to be one of the most important precursors to the Nouvelle Vague. With a Miles Davis score establishing a ground-breaking relationship between music, image and emotion, Malle’s masterpiece uncovers how architecture’s unreliability and caprice rarely tessellates with our secret and frenetic lives.
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1954
The hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is trapped in a wheelchair, and we’re trapped, too – inside his point of view. When he passes his long days and nights by shamelessly maintaining a secret watch on his neighbours, we share his obsession. It’s wrong, we know, to spy on others, but after all, aren’t we always voyeurs when we go to the movies? Aren’t we always voyeurs more generally? Indeed, does the nature of the built environment wantonly encourage us to peer into the lives of others? As the frame of the window mimics the frame of the movie, a film about a man who does on the screen what we do in the audience becomes a subtle critique of architecture’s often tacit ability to inform our behaviours, and dictate our gaze.
BARGEHOUSE – Wednesday 7th June 2021
Films which interrogate the space of the set
THE TRUMAN SHOW
Dir. Peter Weir, USA, 1998.
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the protagonist of a 24-hour TV soap opera; although it is not a regular soap. Truman has lived his entire life in front of the cameras, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—and he is ignorant of a world outside. The utopia he inhabits (a world where contingent encounters and chance occurrences have been utterly eliminated) is stuck in a loop, endlessly repeating itself day after day, in some sort of suburban Sisyphean dance. But during the 30th year of the Show, Truman begins to notice aspects of his world that seem out of place. As the borders of his world slowly begin to reveal themselves, The Truman Show raises profound questions about architecture, control, and the production of human subjectivity.
CROSSED WORDS: MATTA-CLARKS FRIENDS (UK Premiere)
Dir. Matías Cardone, Chile, 2014.
Gordon Matta-Clark (1934-1978) is one of the most admired American independent artists. Originally trained as an architect, Matta-Clark developed an extensive creative career, eventually founding the influential “Anarchitecture” movement in 1974. In Palabras Cruzadas: Los Amigo de Matta-Clark, the voices of the artist’s friends and partners tell us of his adventures and stories in the suburbs of New York. The documentary uses archival video and photos, many of which were developed by Matta-Clark.
In partnership with ArqFilmFest and the Embassy of Chile in the UK
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
Dir. Charlie Kaufman, USA, 2008
Kaufman’s impenetrable, cryptic, demanding, depressing, confrontational masterpiece is about everything: life, death, love, creativity, identity, frustration, forgiveness and regret. Yet perhaps its most intriguing, if consistently overlooked, achievement is its interrogation of—and delight in—the space of the set. But Synecdoche is not a film about the theatre, although it looks like one. A theatre director is simply an ideal character for representing the role Kaufman thinks we all play in life. The magnificent sets, which stack independent rooms on top of one another, are the compartments we assign to our life’s enterprises. The actors are the people in roles we cast from our point of view. Some of them play doubles assigned to do what there’s not world enough and time for. They have a way of acting independently, in violation of instructions. They try to control their own projections. Meanwhile, the source of all this activity grows older and tired, sick and despairing. Is this real or a dream? The world is but a stage, and we are mere actors upon it. It’s all a play—and the play is real.
Dir. Lars Von Trier, France, 2004
A barren soundstage is stylishly utilized to create a minimalist small-town setting in which a mysterious woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman) hides from the criminals who pursue her. The town is two-faced and offers to harbour Grace as long as she can make it worth their effort, so Grace works hard under the employ of various townspeople to win their favour. Tensions flare, however, and Grace’s status as a helpless outsider provokes vicious contempt and abuse from the citizens of Dogville. In a world where architecture is reduced to its bare essentials—ambiguous plans and suggestive fragments—life appears as it truly is: a messy and compromised affair, in which the shelters we so desperately seek provide little more than illusory panaceas for the chaos beyond.
BARGEHOUSE – Friday 9th June 2021
The Tower Block
Films set within a housing project
Dir. Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2008
Italian with English subs.
In the slums of Campania, the Camorra crime syndicate has created a fortune out of cocaine, corruption and chemical waste. Some try to fight back, others try to hide. But the Camorra is too large, too deeply embedded in Italy to be fought. There is no one author of the violence, just a chaotic field of scattered villains and victims—a carnage visited upon the people of Naples through the maintenance of a dehumanising architectural nightmare, in which a brutal lack of decent or hospitable buildings necessitates a life of crime.
THE INFINITE HAPPINESS (UK Premiere)
Dir. Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, France/Denmark, 2015
English & Danish with English subs.
The Infinite Happiness is a highly unusual architectural experience. The film takes us to the heart of one of the contemporary residential developments considered to be a new model of success: the giant “8 House” designed in 2009 by Danish architects BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group in the suburbs of Copenhagen. Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine recount their month-long immersion inside this experiment of vertical village, nominated “World best residential building” in 2011.
As a Lego game, the film builds up a collection of life stories all interconnected by their personal relation to the building. Drawing the lines of a human map, the film reveals the building through an inner and intimate point of view. By showing the surprising results of this innovative social model, the directors question the architecture’s ability to create collective happiness.
Dir. Ben Wheatley, UK, 2015
Based on J. G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, Ben Wheatley’s High Rise tells the story of a doctor (Tom Hiddleston) who moves into a London skyscraper. The tower block allows its residents to become gradually uninterested in the outside world; rising tensions and class warfare mean the building soon descends into chaos. A timely take on the socioeconomic themes of Ballard’s book, High Rise interrogates the potential of architecture to become a “crucible for change”—something that architects (particularly during the era) seem to both recognise and ignore.
BARGEHOUSE – Saturday 10th June 2021
Films about the city
LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF
Dir. Thom Andersen, USA, 2003
Thom Andersen’s fiercely ambivalent cine-essay of Los Angeles (not L.A!) on film. Exploring the tangled relationship between the movies and their fabled hometown through the lens of the films themselves, Andersen takes us on a journey through the distinctive neighbourhoods and architectural homes that have provided the backdrop to countless Los Angeles movies. A mordant portrait of a city which, despite being one of the most photographed places on earth, is—as Andersen asserts—“one of the least photogenic”.
THE KNACK AND HOW TO GET IT
Dir. Richard Lester, UK, 1965
The Knack and How To Get It is a film about a sexual competition between three roommates—an aggressive, womanising drummer Tolen (Ray Brooks), a shy, paranoid schoolteacher Colin (Michael Crawford), and an artist Tom (Donal Connelly)—when a young woman from out of town, Nancy (Rita Tushingham), enters their London world. The Knack is a splendid blaze of nonsense, an all-out assault on the senses, as Lester’s camera careens all over London, catching the spirit of a generation in full flight.
Dir. Jacques Tati, France, 1967
French with English subs.
At the time of its making, Playtime was the most expensive film in French history. Filmed in “Tativille”, an enormous set outside Paris that reproduced an airline terminal, city streets, high rise buildings, offices and a traffic circle, Tati made the film without a story, with inaudible or disposable dialogue, and without a hero. Instead, in Playtime we are surrounded by modern architecture. But it is an architecture which recalls the past—glass doors reflect the Eiffel Tower, the Church of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre and the deep blue sky (the sight of which inspires “oohs” and “ahs” of joy from the tourists, as if they are prisoners and a window has been opened in their cell). It it is simply a film about how humans wander around, baffled and yet hopeful, through impersonal cities and sterile architecture. As Roger Ebert once remarked, “Instead of plot it has a cascade of incidents, instead of central characters it has a cast of hundreds, instead of being a comedy it is a wondrous act of observation. It occupies no genre and does not create a new one. It is a filmmaker showing us how his mind processes the world around him.”
OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW
Dir. Sophie Fiennes, France, Netherlands, UK, 2010
French, English, German
Sophie Fiennes’ spellbinding documentary bears witness to German artist Anselm Kiefer’s alchemical processes and renders in film, as a cinematic journey, the personal universe he has built at his hill-studio estate in the South of France. Kiefer’s collaborative, spatial practice is architectural to the core, yet his structures and spaces are free from the constraints of human occupation (indeed it is 17 minutes before the first person is seen on screen). As we pass through the tunnels and corridors of Kiefer’s studio network, we move from claustrophobic, disturbing areas into more conventional, white-walled studios. Architecture, despite being so silent, so post-human, has never felt so dynamic as this.
OF TIME AND THE CITY
Dir. Terence Davies, UK, 2008
Terence Davies’ ecstatic, plangent elegy to the Liverpool of his past. Recalling Humphrey Jennings, Noël Coward, and even the City Symphony films of the 1920s, Davies takes us on a journey back to the home town of his 1950s boyhood. With a rich and dark voiceover narration, and a brash and sentimental soundtrack, Of Time and the City is a film which revels in the paradoxical grandiloquence of a northern industrial city. But it is a time long since passed; Davies’ film is punctuated with moments of bafflement and pain at the spectacle of a city he no longer recognises. Miseries have been swept away, but certainties also.
BARGEHOUSE – Sunday 11th June 2021
Films about the world itself
GRAN HORIZONTE: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Dir. Daniel Schwartz and Martin Andersson, Multiple Countries, 2013
Compiled with material collected by U-TT Films over the course of three years, this documentary portrays the reality of urban informality around the world, structured in a dream-like dérive of a single day. Asking questions rather than presenting answers, “Gran Horizonte” aims to broaden the perspective of viewers about both the world they live within and the world they could help create.
Dir. Giorgio Reggio, USA, 1982
The demolition of the Pruitt-Igor housing project in St. Louis was once described by Charles Jencks as “the day modern architecture died”. But it was also the day Godfrey Reggio’s sublime Koyaanisqatsi was born—providing one of the first scenes for this now-cult movie when production began in 1975. Koyaanisqatsi is a film about, and for, the entire globe. From great canyons and
limitless deserts in a world without man, to smokestacks, factories and cities that never stop, Reggio asks us to contemplate our relationship with Earth, our impact upon the plant, and, ultimately, the imbalances that exist between nature and the built environment.
Dir. Christopher Nolan, USA, 2010
Dom Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio), has the rare ability to enter people’s dreams and steal secrets from their subconscious. Yet life in the dreamworld is far more complex and multifaceted than one might imagine. The designer of the dream space—the “architect”— does not have to design using real world techniques and physics. They can create labyrinths and paradoxes that bend and shift space and time. As Cobb gets a chance at redemption, the means by which he must navigate the ever changing space of the dream begin to reframe our understanding of the body, the universe, and everything in between.
Dir. King Vidor, USA, 1949
Based on Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead tells the story of an unconventional and arrogant young architect named Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. His battle to practice what the public sees as modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, meets strong resistance from a traditionally minded architectural establishment. Roark is Rand’s embodiment of the human spirit, and his struggle represents the struggle between individualism and collectivism which defined both Rand’s worldview, and the political rhetoric of the twentieth century.