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In the feature-length documentary, Antonio Gaudi (1984), the Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara explores the architectural world of Antonio Gaudi, accompanied by an ethereal and eclectic musical score by Toru Takemitsu. With almost no spoken commentary, Teshigahara depicts Barcelona and Catalonia in general as cultural environments, architectural influences on Gaudi's style, and several of his best-known creations, culminating in Barcelona's Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, Gaudi's lifelong, still-unfinished project.
Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926) is generally considered part of the Art Nouveau design movement that flourished around the turn of the century. Also commonly referred to as "modernism" in certain contexts (notably, Barcelona and Russia), Art Nouveau was known for its use of organic design motifs, especially plant-based, and its extensive reliance on curves, particularly parabolic and hyperbolic forms. Gaudi, however, stands out for the sheer extravagance of his vision. During his studies at the Escola Tecnica Superior d'Arquitectura from 1873 to 1877, he quickly established a reputation for his unconventional designs. His professor Elies Rogent supposedly declared, upon signing Gaudi's diploma, "I have either found a lunatic or a genius."
A devout Catholic, Gaudi developed his mature architectural style on shapes found in nature, such as the spiral, animal skeletons, and scales. In that respect, his version of modernism was not unlike that of the similarly devout twentieth-century French composer Olivier Messiaen, who drew upon bird songs as a source of musical inspiration. The industrialist Count Eusebi Guell was a friend of Gaudi and gave him his first major commissions, which included the Guell family residence, the Guell Park in Barcelona, and a worker's colony.
Gaudi's most famous work by far is the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia). Because of a disagreement with the commission overseeing the project, Francesco del Villar, the lead architect, was replaced by Gaudi, who introduced a new design of his own. He worked on the project starting from 1883 and continued for the rest of his life, devoting the last 15 years exclusively to it. The building was partially destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, as were the models, but the latter were painstakingly reconstructed and construction has also resumed on the basilica. This and other buildings designed by Gaudi are among the major tourist draws of Barcelona. Indeed, Gaudi's unique designs make his buildings a popular choice for film location shooting. For example, Michelangelo Antonioni shot part of The Passenger (1975) on the roof of Casa Mila (also known as La Perdrera, or "the Quarry"), due to the striking shapes on its roof.
At first glance, a documentary about Gaudi might seem an odd choice for Hiroshi Teshigahara (1927-2001), who was primarily known as the director of The Woman in the Dunes (1964), adapted from Kobo Abe's spare, allegorical novel about entrapment. In fact, throughout his career Teshigahara made documentaries on a variety of subjects: Hokusai's paintings, floral arrangement (the 1956 short Ikebana), sculpture (Vita: Sculptures by Sofu from 1963 and Sculpture mouvante: Jean Tinguely from 1981), and boxing (the two films on Jose Torres made in 1959 and 1965).
Teshigahara first saw Gaudi's work during a trip to Barcelona with his father in 1959, and it left a profound impression on him. He later recalled: "Shortly after entering Barcelona, four grotesque steeples appeared before me. Their peaks seemed to domineer over the city shining with gold. I was struck with a sense of conviction. As I approached, the holes pierced in those four tense conical structures, just like a tremendously appealing demonic whisper, clutched me with force. What I was looking at was Gaudi's last masterpiece [the] Sagrada Familia."
Questions of aesthetics do not only figure in Teshigahara's documentary and fiction films. Teshighara's father Sofu founded the Sogetsu school of ikebana, which offered a freer approach than traditional ikebana, including the use of unconventional materials. Following his father and aunt, Hiroshi Teshigahara headed the school, a commitment which occupied much of his time and limited the number of feature films he ultimately directed. In addition to ceramics and calligraphy, he created a number of innovative large-scale installations using bamboo, among them a piece in Hiroshima dedicated to the memory of his friend, the composer Toru Takemitsu. His daughter Akane Teshigahara now heads the school. His official website is still maintained as part of the Sogetsu Foundation website.
Producer: Noriko Nomura
Producer, Director and Editor: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Supervisor: Juan Bassegoda Nonell
Photography: Junichi Segawa, Yoshikazu Yanagida and Ryu Segawa
Editor: Eiko Yoshida
Music and Sound Effects: Toru Takemitsu, Kurodo Mouri, Shinji Hori.
by James Steffen