Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)

It's been a long time since I watched a Ken Burns film that was new to me. Burns, the director of my professed favourite documentary, Brooklyn Bridge (1981), has an established style that might alienate those with less patience, but this is the first time in ages I have enjoyed a documentary narrator addressing me, gently guiding me through the narrative, and pointing out cheeky little details I might not have noticed.

In that way, Burns and his subject are alike. You know the moment you walk into a Ken Burns doco, just the same as you know when you set eyes on a Wright inspired home. Both are usually gentle experiences, but you know there is one idea pointing you inexorably in the direction the auteur intends. Okay, film wank over.

The truth is that Wright was an irascible* old man, who lied unrelentingly to all and sundry, was beset by tragedy, sometimes of his own causing, a terrible husband and father, a bad debtor, and all the characteristics we love in rogue heroes. And that would be a very simple story, but for the fact that Wright was also brilliant beyond all belief and always strived beyond his reach. Wright treated his clients as an abusive lover would treat a scorned spouse, and they behaved as if they were lucky to have him. Wright was prepared to fail, would fail often (at his clients' expense), but the successes were stunning.

Even if you're already familiar with the old coot's work, do yourself a favour and spend ten minutes googling "Frank Lloyd Wright architecture" in your lunch hour. Better than a juicebox, I guarantee.

*See "Conversation Starter 3"

Conversation starters

  • Yeah, he was an egomaniac... but the results speak for themselves.
  • I wonder when we'll get a documentary lobbying American exceptionalism for Donald Trump?
  • Beryl said, "He sounds like a c**t. I bet he was a real shit to work for." I thought "irascible" might be less NSFW.


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