In the West, Hiroshi Teshigahara is best known as the avant-garde director of the 1964 film Woman in the Dunes–an erotic, surreal film that was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Teshigahara’s haunting shots of sand, skin, and water amid the advancing sand dunes have stayed with me over the years. But there is another Teshigahara film, one that is less well-known, that left an even greater impression on me.
Antonio Gaudi is like no other movie I can think of. Teshigahara’s 72-minute meditation on the Spanish Art-Nouveau architect is essentially wordless. He avoids conventional narrative and instead, lets Gaudi’s buildings do the talking.
Before watching this film, I didn’t consider myself a fan of the Spanish artist. (George Orwell described Gaudi’s cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”) But my judgment was based on ignorance–on some vague, false impression that Gaudi’s work was not much more than bulbous, overdone kitsch.
But after viewing Teshigahara’s breathtaking film, my opinion of the Spanish architect has been entirely transformed. Anotnio Gaudi was nothing less than a visionary genius–an original, madly brilliant artist who was unappreciated and misunderstood in his own time.
Teshigahara’s passion for Gaudi’s work comes through on every frame. Once he has set the scene with opening shots of contemporary Barcelona, Teshigahara brings his camera into Gaudi’s universe, taking us up a characteristic Gaudi spiral staircase. He’s a patient, attentive director with a craftsman’s eye for details. He takes the time he needs, allowing the camera to linger. Blue tiles shift in the light like water moving. Mosaics morph into a dragon’s scales. Güell Park, a planned garden village, feels like a surreal, fairy-tale landscape.
Teshigahara moves his camera slowly through these fluid, organic spaces. Slow tracking shots give us a sense that we’re actually inhabiting these bizarre, sublime places. Gaudi’s curved, organic designs are shockingly surreal and erotic. Like Woman in the Dunes, Antonio Gaudi pulses with human sensuality, and yet there is also something of the divine in both Teshigahara’s film and Gaudi’s fertile imagination.
This meditation on the power of and beauty of nature is enhanced with music and sound effects by the renowned Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and two collaborators, Kurodo Mori and Shinji Hori. As the critic Stephen Holden explains, Takemitsu was an eclectic impressionist “whose music blended avant-garde Western techniques, electronics and random compositional methods with more conventional symphonic music and Japanese traditional instruments.”
The spiral motif, associated with the seashell, is emphasized in Takemitsu’s soundtrack, which incorporates the sound of the distant sea. “The score for Gaudi is a kind of free-floating East-meets-West impressionism,” says Holden, “whose organic flow mimics the sprouting curvilinear shapes of Gaudi’s buildings. The score includes four Catalan folk pieces, electronically altered and combined with other sounds.”
Antonio Gaudi is a tactile film–a visual poem that lingers in your memory long after its over. If you have the patience to listen and look and to defer any pressing questions you may have about Antionio Gaudi the man until the DVD extras, you will find the melding of Gaudi’s inventive architecture, Teshigahara’s sensitive camerawork, and Takemitsu’s haunting score a rewarding experience.
But how exactly did the avant-garde, Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara develop such an intense appreciation for the architecture of Antonio Gaudi? I was curious to know more.