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Frank Lloyd Wright - A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick [VHS]
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The beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright is that aside from telling a long and often melodramatic story lucidly, it deals with issues of art and architecture in ways that are approachable but not simplistic. (It's also surprisingly scandalous, although this is seen as part of his art.) Wright was first and foremost a rebel who took his cues from nature, though, as one commentator points out, this is not to say his approach was natural. What he was rebelling against was the clutter and claustrophobia of Victorian architecture. The rooms he designed opened up on each other, and his exteriors seemed to grow laterally out of the landscape. All of these ideas are neatly illustrated--although it perhaps could have been explained how Wright's later, whimsical designs related to his earlier, earthbound ones--with some marvelous footage of a Wright lily pad column supporting a load of sandbags and quiet Steadicam shots of Wright interiors that give the viewer a feeling for his sense of light and harmony. The filmmakers have wisely kept the technical talk to a minimum, but they are also not afraid to step back and let the experts ruminate on the nature of his genius, even when these experts are at a loss for words. Burns has made stars of some of his commentators in previous films, and in this one the late critic Brendan Gill shines. Wright himself comes across as a man who never doubted himself, a lousy father, and self-consciously Byronic. His vitality and larger-than-life persona seemed to belong to the 19th century, making him--and this is perhaps a mixed blessing--the last of his kind. --John Clark

Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest of all American architects. He was an authentic American genius, a man who believed he was destined to redesign the world, creating everything anew. Over the course of his long career, Wright designed over eight hundred buildings, including such revolutionary structures as the Guggenheim Museum, the Johnson Wax Building, Fallingwater, Unity Temple and Taliesin. Wright's buildings and his ideas changed the way we live, work and see the world around us. Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural achievements were often overshadowed by the turbulence of his melodramatic life. In ninety-two years, he fathered seven children, married three time, and was almost constantly embroiled in scandal. Some hated him, some loved him, but in the end, few could deny that he was the most important architect in America - and perhaps the world. With exquisite live cinematography, fascinating interviews, and rare archival footage, this riveting film brings Wright's unforgettable story to life.

Customer Reviews:

  • meandering and mediocre treatment of a American legend
    A meandering and mediocre treatment of an American legend...with too much time spent on the symbolism, exposition, sidetracks and not enough on the subject...Wright & His Architecture. Burns work has steadily gone downhill since The Civil War. Did he produce this piece for passion or pay?...more info
  • This Is Not a Movie Picture Book
    I bought this dvd thinking that I wanted to see homes that Frank Lloyd Wright built, but this dvd does that no justice. This is a documentary of Frank Lloyd Wrights life, not a movie about his work. I do not suggest buying this unless you want to know about the man, not his work....more info
  • The Greatest American Architect
    This biography of Frank Lloyd Wright is a fascinating story. He was the most celebrated American architect of his day. He felt a house should be one with nature, to compliment it. His homes gave a distinctive feeling of spaciousness; and he believed an architect's primary purpose was to build dwellings that people delighted in living in - and not just looking at.

    Scandals tainted his "first life" and probably contributed to his lack of major commissions. But his career took flight when, at sixty-two, he married a woman who, for once, was his intellectual equal. She was totally devoted to him and had him write an autobiography and begin a school of architecture. The exposure led to new clientele - and to his most significant creative achievement - the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which took thirteen years to build, and was completed six months after he died.

    Frank Lloyd Wright thought very highly of himself, of his own abilities, and of his contribution to the advancement of mankind's existence. His self-confidence drove him to push the edges of the envelope - for his entire life. His vision was infectious. Clients would recall fondly that working with Mr. Wright, while he was designing and building their homes or offices, would be the highpoint of their lives.

    Mr. Wright's accomplishments are a testament that life - and living - are not bounded by age; and that divine ability can sometimes lead to greatness.

    This is easily one of Ken Burns' best works, and I couldn't stop watching it!...more info

  • Getting some things straight.
    I am not quite sure that I have seen the contents of this particular tape, although a film on FLlW was telecast here in Australia a while ago. However what I have to say has to do with some of the above comments, rather than the video itself. First I'll deal with a sentence found in the piece by "parallax442". It says that Wright DESIGNED Falligwater in just under 3 hours. Actually what he means is : he DREW the presentation sketches. Not Michelangelo, not Palladio, not Sir Christopher Wren, Phillip Johnson, nor Mies van der Roe can or could DESIGN a house in that time. Not even a god can, I don't think. The fact is that Wright began creating his masterpiece on the very minute he began SPEAKING with the Kaufmanns. Vieweing the intended site of the new house simply kicked his genius in full gear and the rest is (or should be) well known. At the time of the carefully documented phone call, announcing his client's visit, Frank Lloyd Wright COPIED the stuff that was in his head. Is as simple as that (if anyone can call any such thing SIMPLE). Another thing to which I take exception, is the word "scandalous" used elsewhere with regards to his personal life. The guy married young an even younger and very beautiful girl, full of life. Sowed his oats (wild or domesticated,as the case may be) prior to that, during and after. He found a beautiful and spirited mistress etc. etc. etc. Knew joys, sorrow, pleasure and tragedy. Lived his life to the full as he knew how. Scandalous? Does anyone ever divorce or get a lover in America?...more info
  • Strong on the personal, light on the professional
    This is an entertaining and informative program. However, those who hope to get an overview of Wright's architectural genius may find it lacking. I watched it before spending the weekend with one of his former apprentices, and I felt myself wishing for more historical perspective on what FLW had to offer in the way of new ideas in architectural design. I am pleased to learn more of his personal history, and it probably was important in his professional development. And I guess that abstract design principles will always lose out to People Magazine type coverage in entertainment value. But this series gave me only a bit of what I had hoped for....more info
  • A great documentary of an architectual genius (and odd guy)
    Ken Burns (the primary contributor to this film) did a awesome job capturing the beauty and magnificence of Wright's various creations. The first half of the film talks about Wright's early creations -- the second half focuses on the most productive time of Wright's career (after his 60s ). The Waterfall house, the Johnson Wax building, the Gugenheim...wonderful footage of wonderful places. The most illuminating part of the video, however, is the look into Wright's personal aspect of Wright that is often glossed over....more info
  • A superb if not all inclusive documentary
    In watching this marvelous documentary on the life and career of Frank Lloyd Wright I was reminded of an equally unpleasant creative artist. After Robert Frost spent several days of abusing and attempting to humiliate the poet Archibald McLeish, the historian Bernard DeVoto told him, "Robert, you are a great poet, but a bad man." Contrary to one myth, not all geniuses are jerks. Marcel Proust was exceedingly quirky, but by every account he was a generous and caring friend. Albert Einstein was by accounts a remarkably nice person, Vladimir Nabokov, though a brute in reviews (known as Vlad the Impaler), was in ordinary life a kind and goodhearted soul, while William Carlos Williams was not only a great modern poet, but a thoroughly decent human being. But there are enough people like Frank Lloyd Wright, Picasso, Beethoven, and James Joyce to keep alive the myth of Genius as Jerk. Wright certainly did his share to feed into this myth and the documentary doesn't try to mute this aspect of his life. He was just not a very nice person and had he not been a great architect we wouldn't want to know anything about him. Apart from his work his was an ugly life. But he was also a stunningly gifted and prolific architect. I've never heard anyone address the question of which architects in history had the largest number of buildings constructed, but I could easily believe that the crown belongs to Wright. I first saw a Wright designed building when I lived for a year in Louisville, KY and had a striking looking bank building pointed out as a Wright design. I also visited the Guggenheim in NY when living in New Haven for several years. I was never impressed by the art collection it was designed to display, but the building itself I found to be stunning. My closest encounter with Wright came when I moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago and my route home took me each time directly along the Robie House, usually considered one of his two or three most important designs. For several years, for instance, AIA members voted it the second most important structure from an architectural standpoint in America, surpassed only by Wright's Falling Water. Yet, the Burns's documentary gives virtually no attention to the Robie House, although they do show it briefly. This is probably my only major complaint, the near complete neglect of one of his most highly regarded designs (notwithstanding that it is the one I know best).

    Through Wright's life is unpleasant at almost every point to contemplate, his architecture from beginning to end is utterly exhilarating. More than any architect I know, whenever I see either in person or on film or in print any of his designs, I am seized with a desire to inhabit that space. When I see a Mies van der Rohe design, I have the opposite reaction. The spaces designed in the International Style I rarely find inviting, inspiring, warm, or welcoming. Wright's spaces, whether public or private, always are all of these things. The documentary does a great job of showing many Wright spaces, photographing them in ways that show how the spaces work, and from angles that are especially revealing.

    I do think that the documentary would have helped by looking at more buildings, especially the Prairie style homes (such as the Robie House, which is shockingly relegated to a bit part). But much else also is left out. Wright was as much a designer as an architect, yet while his furniture and windows are seen in a myriad of shots, there is virtually no mention of his thoughts about design. Also, there was very little in the way of valid criticism of his work. Anyone who has known first hand any Wright structure knows that they are, as a rule, very poorly constructed. Most of his works have had to be rebuilt or at least corrected. The film does talk of the severe leaking of the roof that was experienced after the completion of the Johnson Wax Headquarters. Almost all of his designs have had the same problem. One of the critics on the show talks of Wright being a great engineer, and on the macro level perhaps that is true. But on the micro level, he simply didn't seem to have a grasp of how to put things together. Just one example from my own experience. If you walk along the long exterior wall that lines the Robie House one will be stunned to see how crooked it is. It wriggles like a snake. I have read that Falling Water has been similarly plagued with structural problems. Yet apart from the Johnson leaky roof, almost no mention is made of any of this.

    Reading some of the reviews below, I have to express some bafflement that so many seem surprised that the documentary focuses so much on Wright's life. The title of the documentary is FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, not THE ARCHITECTURE OF FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT. I'm not being pedantic. Only in the second case should one be surprised that so much was said about his life. In the former case I would have been astonished if they left all the biographical details out. I think much of the problem here stems from two sources. First, many want this to be the documentary that they anticipate seeing, not the one that Burns actually made. Second, much of the problem is that there is a massive gap between the quality of Wright's work as an architect and the quality of his life as a human being. As DeVoto might put it, he was indeed a great architect, even if he was a bad man. ...more info
  • A Great Exploration of the Life, Trials, and Accomplishments
    I only got to see the last hour of the movie, but overall, it was well written. I especially like the aspect of the movie that deals with Frank Lloyd Wrights flaws in his buildings. It shows that no matter how much genius a person has, they still make mistakes. It gives a very factual account of his visions and buildings, including the acclaimed "Fallingwater." The movie intertwines his architectural accomplishments as well as his personal life, making this a very interesting combination. Anybody who watches this film will get a good idea of how Frank Lloyd Wright operated throughtout his more than 9 decade lifetime. I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in art or architecture watch this movie!...more info

    Any way one looks at, this was a very well done documentary. Yes, it did stress his life and misdeeds. Apparently, his deeds and misdeeds were the mortar that his designs sprang from.


    Essentially, through this chronological biography of a sort, we see the development of the man being mirrored by the development of his ideas of how to make interior space for living, worshipping, and working more civilized and, in many ways, more functional and ergonomic.

    Yes, of course, there were failures, but so many of his designs were experiments, and experiments are prototypes, and protoypes are invariably flawed. Just look at the auto industry! Though he was a self-promoter, he did not stoop to assembly line construction. Even his modest designs were filled with civilized and novel ideas that actually brought about the advent of the ranch house. His constuction innovations integrated into the hotel in Tokyo, which survived the great Earthquake, set the standard for building codes that are today used around the world to save lives in Earthquake-prone regions. His use of sites to maximize set-backs and combine living space into nature as harmoniously as possible is still at the cutting edge of site design planning, urban planning, and architectural design methodologies.

    It is truly a shame that he had a bumpy ride through life, but for all his personal problems and the human wreckage the seemed connected to it, he gave the world as a whole much more than he took from it. Though he may have seemed an underachiever at times, in the long run, his achievements will be more connected to the effect he has had on the field of architecture and civilization which have been improved through his efforts. In essence, one can not judge Frank Lloyd Wright by the 769 buildings he built, but rather by the millions of structures that now incorporate many of his innovations and are safer and more liveable for it.

    To tell the story, they used an eclectic group of witnesses ranging from a 100-year-old son to former fellowship members, plus grandsons, critics and collegues. Of course, they also showed parts of his interview with Mike Wallace back in 1957 and some home movies too.


    As evidenced in his personal life, he was a very emotional man. Combining his strong emotions with his skill as an architect helped him create designs that were works of art, like the Guggenheim. His emotions blended into his designs to instill a desirable emotional effect on visitors or owners of his creations. Some people described it as a spiritual experience. In Columbus, Indiana there are a large number of structures that were built by Wright and his followers. There are tours through Columbus showing these marvels off and even a lovely park [Mill Race Park] that somehow makes 100 acres adjacent to a noisy highway and a polluted stream into an Eden that seems like 1,000 pristine acres.


    In two parts on one DVD, it was 146 minutes long. It also contained several interviews and it was very helpful to see the perspective of filmaker Ken Burns and company....more info
  • Did Jerry Springer make this film?
    This was very disappointing. There was way too much information on the personal failings of Frank Lloyd Wright and way too little on the architectural themes. Yes, you will see all the obvious structures: Fallingwater, the Guggenheim, the Johnson Wax building and the Japanese hotel. But Usonian structures receive about 2 minutes out of 2-plus hours. Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright was a jerk. We get it, Ken. I didn't need dozens of examples on why this was true. My feeling is that if Jerry Springer had done 2-plus hours on Frank Lloyd Wright, it would have looked a lot like this. Two stars for the little architecture we did get a chance to see.

    You will learn much more about this subject with the A&E tape called "The Homes of Frank Lloyd Wright"....more info