April 29, 2004

My Architect

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Two of the most common questions a child asks are “where did I come from?” and “how did they make that?” Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s the motive that drives Nathaniel Kahn, writer and director of My Architect, as he searches for information on his thirty years deceased father’s life. His father, the famous architect Louis Kahn, was the man responsible for such buildings as The Salk Institute of Technology in La Jolla, CA and the Exeter Library. Lou died mysteriously in a train station in 1974. While the film lags for a fair amount of time and could easily have been an hour in running instead of two, it captured some impressive images and was very educational towards the world of architecture. Knowing that it was the son’s camera (eyes) looking at his father’s buildings (ghost) is a stirring connection that gives the viewer enough of an interest to keep watching.

What’s interesting is simply that Nathaniel Kahn is Louis’s son. The two are complete opposites. I’d hate to say it, but aside from being one of the best architects the world has ever seen, Lou was kind of a douche bag. He kept to himself constantly, had three illegitimate children with three different ladies, had all but one of his buildings cause the project team to be in debt, and was one of those geniuses that paid for his gift by having absolutely no social tact. Then there’s his son, who at the age of 40 is still obsessed with his childhood, is outgoing and personable (even towards his two stepsisters, both of whom he finally meets during the film), and is trying to come to terms with his upbringing with childishly upset voice-over “letters” to his dead father … come on Nate, let’s give Freud a call.

As a documentary, this film fails. It depends too much on our interest without bolstering it enough. Halfway through, I had enough of Lou Kahn, caring now longer about how many buildings he had constructed as I became more interested in how many women he had scored with. A strong focus on Lou Kahn’s upbringing and awkward life just wasn’t engaging after the first hour of the movie. The imagery, however, was a saving grace. Moments of a boy in the water outside a Bangladeshi castle, of Nathaniel roller-blading like a little girl all around the Salk Institute, and the varying angles of his father’s genius were moments that made this film worthwhile. There’s a little empathy for Nathaniel, but I found myself wishing I could be the son of a legendary architect … or Joe Torre. About half of the movie involves interviews with people between the ages of 70 and 200. I have attention deficit disorder. Do the math.

In the end, My Architect is a movie about buildings that doesn’t quite have a strong enough foundation. Lou Kahn was no doubt an interesting figure, but I don’t think I could watch two hours focused on anybody … well, except you of course, Elisha Cuthbert. If the movie focused more on images than trying (and failing) to stir our interest in the past, it could have been a remarkable visual accomplishment, along the lines of Koyaanisqatsi. In the end, it’s interesting and somewhat compelling. But if you have ADD like myself, avoid this puppy at all costs.

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Red Letter DAZE Staff Writer