'Journey' follows Kahn's other life

BY JASON ROBERTS
Daily Arts Editor
Published February 20, 2004

Louis Kahn died suddenly of a heart attack in a men’s room
at Penn Station, alone, broke and unidentified in 1974.He left
behind a wife and daughter. The untold story, however, is about the
two mistresses he had and the two illegitimate children he rarely
saw.

Laura Wong
Yes, I am pensive. (Courtesy of New Yorker)

When he was 11 years old, Nathaniel Kahn remembers reading the
obituary of the father he knew so little about. He was surprised to
find that his name wasn’t listed as one of the
architect’s survivors. It is Nathaniel who now, 30 years
after Kahn’s death, brings to light the life beyond the
architect, one of the world’s greatest masters of the late
20th century, in “My Architect: A Son’s
Journey.”

Often thought of as rebelling against the modernist ideals of
his time, such as the glass and steel designs of Mies van der Rohe,
Kahn worked in a style that glorified material for its tactile,
spatial and timeless qualities. His completed works —though
there weren’t many — were often compared, in quality
and aesthetics, to the ancient ruins of Rome. He played with heavy
materials like brick and stone while manipulating light in an
almost spiritual way.

Though Kahn’s public life was well known, his personal
life remained very isolated, even from the people he loved. His two
long-term mistresses, including Nathaniel’s mother, lived
within miles of where Kahn and his wife resided. Even fellow
architects, such as Philip Johnson and I. M. Pei — both of
whom Nathaniel interviewed — were quite unaware of the life
Kahn lived outside of the office.

It would be very easy for Nathaniel to be angry at his father
for his seemingly selfish acts, but “Architect” crafts
a far different picture. In interviews with those whose lives he
touched, including Nathaniel’s own mother, there is nothing
but love and respect, tinged with sorrow, for not fully
understanding the man they thought they knew so well. A meandering
tale, “My Architect” follows Nathaniel in his journeys
across the globe, meeting people that knew Kahn in life and
visiting the architectural works that he left behind.

It’s in these places where the filmmaker paints a truly
cinematic masterpiece. Cinematographer Robert Richman captures
Kahn’s works beautifully. Sometimes saying more than the
people with whom Nathaniel speaks, these well crafted sequences are
not only artistic, but also add to the underlying theme of
emptiness. Nathaniel often used an elegant juxtaposition of long,
steady shots and old black and white photos of himself and his
father to paint this multilayered tapestry.

In the end, the question remains: Who is Nathaniel actually
making this documentary for? Not only is it a beautiful and
passionate tribute to one of the world’s most fascinating
architects, it’s a personal endeavor — a chance for a
son who barely knew his father to reconcile with his childhood and
find his place in the present.

 

Movie Review: 4 out of 5 stars