Two DVDs: Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum AND Frank Lloyd Wright's Home & Studio

41IWoPb2-NL._SL500_AA300_.jpg51gOyDWX4oL._SL500_AA300_.jpgFrank Lloyd Wright’s the Guggenheim Museum
A film by Neil Levine & Timothy Sakamoto
Produced and directed by Timothy Sakamoto

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio
Directed by Timothy Sakamoto

[Update: In-D Media is having a sale on all of their products, offering rather dramatic savings. I’d recommend their DVDs at twice the regular price, so the current sale is a phenomenal opportunity to add great documentaries to your Wright collection. I’ve only seen the two films I’ve reviewed below, but the quality of the production and enthusiasm and respect for great art shines through so clearly, I haven’t the slightest doubt that every film In-D produces is of equal quality.]

In-D Media is a production company that produces films about architecture. Their current titles include a number of DVDs about specific Frank Lloyd Wright buildings (the Guggenheim Museum , Home & Studio , Taliesin , Taliesin West and Fallingwater ) and other modern architects (Rudolph Schindler , Richard Neutra and Zaha Hadid ). The company says: “we’re architects making films on architecture. That’s what makes our films a little special”. Replace “a little special” with “extraordinary” and that claim would still be too modest by half.

Mark Hertzberg interviewed Tim Sakamoto , the man behind In-D Media two years ago. It’s a great introduction to the company how he views his work.

I’ve had a chance to watch two: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio. One building, the Guggenheim, I’ve never seen; the Home & Studio was the first Wright I went through, and since I’ve toured it more times than I can remember. Those two buildings are also the masterpieces that bookend his career — one gracefully modern, rooted in the post-war era, the other looking both backward to the Victorian era and forward to new styles of the Twentieth Century.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum is the newest release from In-D, and it is fantastic. Rather than say it’s recommended, I’d say it’s an essential item for any Frank Lloyd Wright fan. (You can read Mark Hertzberg’s review here)

This film centers on Neil Levine. The architectural historian from Harvard University is energetic and engaging — this isn’t a disembodied talking head thing. It really feels like a friend leading you on a tour of his favorite building, if your friend happens to be a lauded scholar who literally wrote the book on Frank Lloyd Wright. The film is lively, making use of footage recently shot in the renovated museum mixed with historic footage and photographs and Wright’s drawings from the Taliesin archives. The film is carefully crafted to portray the building as a vital, dynamic public space, rather than a sterile monument.

The Guggenheim Museum is the capstone of Wright’s career, a soaring, transcendent triumph, and this film is the biography this masterpiece deserves — sweeping, visually arresting and intelligent. It begins with the ziggurats that served as Wright’s inspiration and carries on into the Twenty-first Century as Wright’s museum transforms the museum and the museum experience.

In addition to the standard edition,Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum is also available in a 2-disk special edition . The second disk is an interactive tour (runs on both Windows and Mac OSX). The second disk is billed as a virtual tour — a series of panoramic views that allow you look all around the museum. Maneuvering with the mouse, you can look up to ceiling, down to the floor and all around (you can see a sample of one here). The full tour is composed of more than 60 of these images, offering views from multiple spots on every floor. Navigation is through an image of the floorplan, making it easy to move through the museum systematically, or hop around to various vantage points, seeing the spiral from what ever vantage point grabs your fancy.

Also on the second disk is “The Archive”, it includes some of the drawings, sketches and photos of models seen in the film (you can see the selection of images here ). You can view them full screen, or zoom in and examine them closely. This is a unique opportunity to study Wright’s artistic and creative process in detail.

The two-disk version costs $10 more than the standard version, which seems an incredible bargain. Aside from the inherent value of the material, the second disk enhances the value of the documentary by allowing exploration of the museum itself and aspects of its development.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio

Despite the excellent restoration and tours, Wright’s Home & Studio can be surprisingly difficult to properly understand. It’s easy to forget that the original core of the house was build more than ten years before the first Prairie Style house, and it even pre-dated the Charnley House, the Sullivan/Wright collaboration in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Since the house has been restored to its 1910 appearance and it is in a neighborhood of mature Prairie homes, it is difficult to see the house in context. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio follows a more rigidly chronological story to show how the house developed, and includes interviews with a number of experts (including Joan Mercuri and Tim Samuelson) to lay out the story of how Wright’s style and the house developed together. The film uses a succession of floor plans, historic photos and contemporary video to show how Wright’s home changed as his ideas developed.

Wright’s Home & Studio may not be the most important Wright structure, but it may be the most important Wright structure to understand. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio pulls apart the changes and offers a clear view of continuous tinkering, the cycle of refinement and development that demonstrates Wright’s artistic process. This is a view that is impossible to have when visiting the Home & Studio. The film may not replace a tour, but it is a complement to a tour, essential to grasping how all of the pieces fit.

Alone, that aspect of the film would make Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio valuable, but it goes deeper. It’s something of a intellectual biography of a building — Wright didn’t do things because they looked pretty; his architecture was built on philosophical foundations. The film makers know that the raw material of Wright’s houses are just as much ideas as brick, wood and plaster. And you won’t find a better set of tour guides to the ideas of Wright’s Prairie period than are gathered on this DVD.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio is also available in a 2-disk edition . Like the the Guggenheim Special Edition, it has a number of panoramic photos that allow you to look in every direction, There’s one for every major room, along with a huge number of still photographs of both the interior and exterior of the home. The Special Edition is a great value, and the additional material on the second disk greatly enhanced the appreciation of the film on the first disk.

These films would be great additions to any Wright fan’s collection — the professional production values coupled with expert interviews offer insights to the Guggenheim and the Home & Studio than cannot be matched by a book or even a standard tour. The two-disk Special Editions enhance the experience and transform a great documentary film into an unparalleled experience.