My Father, The Genius
I met Lucia Small, the
director of this documentary, in 2002 at the Maryland Film Festival in
Baltimore, while we were both introducing films to be shown. This
movie, in fact, was the one that she was there to display. We were
being returned to our hotels in a van and talked a bit about why we were
there. She told me a bit about her film about her father, his career as
an architect and his strained relationships with his family. It
sounded interesting and I was always disappointed that I had missed the
showing of the film.
I never got a chance to see
it until now, five years later, it is finally getting a video release.
In the time since then, there has even been a somewhat similar documentary
called My Architect - A Son's Journey, in which the estranged son of
another famous architect, Louis I. Kahn, tries to come to grips with his
late father through talking with his colleagues and exploring his work.
Small had done this years before, though for some reason the box for the DVD
gives the copyright date as 2005, making it seem like Genius may have
come out after Architect. (Even in you didn't know, you could
tell it is an older film right on the box, in which a review compares it to
The Royal Tenenbaums. Just for the record, it's a better film
Unlike My Architect,
Small's father is still here to talk for himself. He is mostly a
charming, intelligent, funny guy. At the same time he's somewhat
selfish, more than occasionally delusional, a bit sexist and at the same
time naively romantic and seems to have very little as far as a mental
filter -- he says everything he thinks without worrying how it will effect
the person he is talking to. One of the most interesting sequences is
some archival footage of Small essentially committing career suicide by
mocking some of his professional cohorts on the dais at an architectural
Of course, part of his
career problem is his inability to sacrifice his vision. Small's ideas
are beautiful and revolutionary, but even as someone with little knowledge
of architectural theory many of them seem like they would be nearly
impossible to actually implement. So much of what he is doing seems to
be from a science fiction film. Particularly Small's pet project, the
Biomorphic Biosphere, which is a city above the ground like a giant mobile
with very few points where it actually touches the ground. Most people
wonder how all of the weight of the city will be able to be supported by
these small points of contact with the ground, but that does not seem to
concern Small. Needless to
say it never really caught on.
His inability to compromise
is even more pointed in his personal life. Glen Small loves women in
theory but really has no understanding of them -- or even really great need for
them. He assumes that is should just be a given that his art and his
career come first -- an attitude which has caused ill feelings amongst his
three exes and four daughters.
Even the creation of this film comes from
directly from this feeling, though it also was a way of trying to find some healing with
his daughter. One day, Glen contacted Lucia out of the blue telling
her that she should write his biography so that his work would be
chronicled. Instead she suggested a documentary, which he agreed to.
Surprisingly, he allowed it to be a warts-and-all portrait, pleading his
case for his work but also showing him to be flawed as a human being.
It makes for fascinating viewing. (4/07)
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Posted: April 18, 2007.