Sacred Spaces

Cathedrals Of Culture still 1 _Glawogger_Library_01_

Bologna — have relocated to the city centre, and am averaging five screenings a day. Met Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Kevin Brownlow. Life is good!

Report from Edinburgh:

CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE is subtitled A 3D FILM PROJECT ABOUT ARCHITECTURE or something, a weirdly prissy title (is a “film project” different from/better than a “film”) and what it is, is a series of half hour portraits of important buildings by an international group of filmmakers. Since there are six half hour pieces, it’s quite long, and like all compendium films it’s a mixed bag, but none of the films are boring and there is one real stand-out.

Rather unfortunately, several of the filmmakers have had the same idea, writing a voice-over for the buildings so they can narrate their own stories. It’s a cute idea, done once. Michael Glawogger breaks the pattern by assembling a collage of Russian literary extracts; Redford uses a series of audio interviews, new and archival. Dispensing with talk altogether might have been a welcome innovation for somebody.

Despite this being Wim Wenders’ second work in 3D, after PINA, he continually tracks forward through the Berlin Philharmonic (a genuinely grand, innovative and consistently surprising structure), which weirdly cancels out the effect of being in a 3D movie. Forward tracking shots look like 3D already. Lateral ones, diagonal ones, and indeed stationary ones are more suited to exploiting the stereoscopic effect. Still, the space is stunning and about half of Wenders shots do it justice.

Cathedrals Of Culture still 3 _Redford_Institute_01_

Robert Redford struggles to find enough angles on the Salk Institute, which offers only one real vista, a challenge to legendary cinematographer Ed Lachman’s inventiveness. Margreth Olin has the benefit of dance performances to shoot at the Oslo Opera House, but her constant freeze frames and shifts into black and white mar rather than enhance the experience.

Michael Glawogger’s camera drifts through a vast library, recalling Resnais, and finding a few striking effects with the curving aisles of books and flickering fluorescent lights. But visits to the Pompidou Centre and other noble institutions risk being purely celebratory, a difficult attitude to sustain with interest for three hours.

The filmmaker who understands 3D best here is Michael Madsen (not the actor), perhaps because he’s also a cinematographer. His portrait of a Finnish prison manages to surprise with every fresh angle, the bleak but beautiful whiteness of the structure perfectly captured in crisp, calm frames which nevertheless brim with unspoken tension. By choosing the least overtly “cultural” building, Madsen also avoids preciousness, a slight concern elsewhere. The voice-over, recorded by the prison’s psychologist, adopts the viewpoint of various sections of the institution: the perimeter wall, the chapel, the cottage for conjugal visits, and most disturbingly, the isolation wing.

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