US © 2016 Peter Rosen Productions, Inc. / Thirteen Productions, Inc. Series: American Masters. P+D: Peter Rosen. Co-producer, DP and protagonist: Eric Saarinen. Shot in 6K.
Archival interviews with Eero Saarinen and his second wife Aline Saarinen. Sources for the narration: family correspondence and quotations from Aline Saarinen's memoirs.
Peter Franzén (voice of Eero Saarinen). Blythe Danner (voice of Aline Saarinen).
New interviews with architects Kevin Roche, César Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, and Robert A. M. Stern, and industrial designer Niels Diffrient, who all worked with or were influenced by Saarinen. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, curator Donald Albrecht (Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future), author Jayne Merkel (Eero Saarinen) and Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, provide perspectives.
Premiere date: December 27, 2016
In the presence of Eric Saarinen.
DCP screened at 2K at Cinema Andorra, Helsinki, 15.3.2017
Peter Rosen: "Explore the life of Finnish-American modernist architectural giant Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), whose visionary buildings include National Historic Landmarks such as St. Louis' iconic Gateway Arch and the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan. Saarinen also designed New York's TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport, Yale University's Ingalls Rink and Morse and Stiles Colleges, Virginia's Dulles Airport, and modernist pedestal furniture like the Tulip chair. Travel with his son, director of photography Eric Saarinen, as he visits the sites of his father's work on a cathartic journey, shot in 6K with the latest in drone technology that showcases the architect's body of timeless work for the first time. Eero's sudden death at age 51 cut short one of the most influential careers in American architecture. Today, Saarinen's work stands apart and continues to inspire, especially amongst renewed interest in 20th-century architects and artists who exploded the comfortable constraints of the past to create a robust and daring American aesthetic. Produced and Directed by Peter Rosen. 68 minutes, 2016. Premiering December 2016 on PBS as part of the American Masters series." - Peter Rosen
AA: A documentary journey into the life and work of Eero Saarinen as discovered by his son Eric Saarinen. The story starts with the architectural competition of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (see image above) where both Eero and his father, Eliel Saarinen, participated. It was a big blow to Eliel that his son won. Eero's quest was about an archetypal form, as simple as the pyramid, yet expressing an optimism, an openness, a symbol of all that's new, but made to last a thousand years.
Eliel Saarinen had started in the current of National Romanticism, with a Finnish interpretation of Art Nouveau / Jugendstil (a beloved Eliel Saarinen landmark in Finland is the Helsinki Central Railway Station), but always moving forward. His son, the American architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) became known as a Neofuturist, but he, too, kept renewing himself. His life's work culminated in the grand decade of the 1950s, and many of his works were still being completed when he died of a brain tumour at age 51.
"I was only 19 when my father died", reveals Eric (born 26 June 1942). The making of this film is "a magical mystery tour". Eero had divorced from his first wife Lily with whom he had two children, Eric and Susan, and remarried with Aline when Eric was 12. Eric rejected his father like his father had rejected him. First now Eric is coming to terms with Eero's legacy.
We return to Eero Saarinen's birthplace, the Hvitträsk mansion "in the middle of nowhere" designed by the company Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen, later the home of Eliel Saarinen's family, today a museum and a beloved tourist spot 30 km to the west of Helsinki. In Eliel's time it was a cultural home where guests included Maxim Gorky, Gustav Mahler, and Jean Sibelius. There Eero learned to draw, and all his life he judged potential architects by their skill at the croquis drawing of a horse.
In 1922 when Eero was 13 the family moved to the U.S.A. where Eliel Saarinen became the dean of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Among the students were Charles and Ray Eames. In Cranbrook Eero was surrounded by beauty, the golden light of Eliel's buildings, and the presence of some Finnish gargoyles. At Cranbrook Eero got his first assignments. At the girls' school we get to marvel the archer symbolism, the main archer aiming to the sky ‒ not just high but vertically.
The structure of the film is a voyage. We travel to the great landmarks of Eero Saarinen's life: Hvitträsk in Finland, Cranbrook in Michigan, Detroit Center for Design and Technology, the Gateway Arch at St. Louis, General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, TWA Flight Center at the Kennedy Airport in New York, the Ingalls ice hockey rink ("The Whale") and Morse and Stiles colleges at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut), the Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C., and the CBS Building ("the Black Rock") in New York City.
It is a voyage in space to different cities and states. It is also a voyage into the spaces of the buildings themselves accomplished with the latest drone camera technology, recording in 6K. Although made for television, only a cinema screen can do full justice this film, the magnitude of its architectural scope.
But the movie is also a voyage in time and memory, and a voyage in search for a lost father. This multi-level voyage structure reminds me of an entirely different kind of film, Julien Duvivier's masterpiece Un carnet de bal which I recently happened to see.
Experts offer key insights to the Eero Saarinen legacy. "A rigorous sense of how you actually build that stuff". Architecture can convey excitement and engage emotionally (the Ingalls ice hockey rink). The mission was to create buildings for our time, worlds with their own flavour. A keyword for Eliel and Eero was "organic", always learning from the inspiration of nature's forms. Eero always resisted falling into a mold. His work as an architect was a fight versus gravity. He was re-inventing himself so thoroughly that his works seem like being designed by different architects. His buildings were more than utilitarian: they were almost a religion. He sought to fulfill a belief in the meaning of existence. Great architecture is both universal and individual.
Eric Saarinen grants us the privilege to see glimpses of the private life of the Saarinen family in rare home movie footage. There is also newsreel footage of Eliel's funeral in Hvitträsk in 1950.
This film is a tribute to the awesome legacy of Eero Saarinen and a touching personal journey by Eric Saarinen. Of the architectural films of the American Masters series I have seen Sydney Pollack's remarkable Sketches of Frank Gehry in whose distinguished class this film ranks. Comparisons are inevitable with Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect: A Son's Journey (2003, on the director's father Louis Kahn), but Eric Saarinen told us that it was not an influence and he had not even seen it.
Q&A WITH ERIC SAARINEN AFTER THE SCREENING
Eric told us that he has no personal favourite among the buildings designed by Eero Saarinen. "Every single one is so completely different."
"I never used any lights".
Eric emphasized the inspiration of nature for Eero Saarinen. "It is all based on nature. Natural forms. Grapefruit. An egg shell: the Kresge Auditorium at the MIT."
I asked about the home movies and the interest in general in films in the family. "Eero Saarinen loved movies, for instance The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He made a movie about the TWA Flight Center and wondered whether he should have been a film-maker. My grandmother [Loja Saarinen, née Gesellius] made the home movies".
Eric Saarinen is a distinguished and award-winning American cinematographer who has studied film-making at the UCLA, shot films from Jimi Plays Berkeley to this movie, won the Grand Prix at Cannes Lion Festival for his ambitious commercials, and shot Symbiosis (1982) for the Walt Disney Epcot Center.
"I hadn't studied my father before. I turned down this movie. I hated him. He kicked us out. I really did not like my father. I changed my mind reading a high pile of books written about him. The fundamental philosophy can be found in Eliel Saarinen's book The Search for Form in Art and Architecture. Don't copy anyone else. Don't copy yourself. To the million of problems there are a million of solutions. To any problem you may face you can find the solution in nature. My next film I plan on Eliel".
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: FROM THE AMERICAN MASTERS WEBSITE:
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: FROM THE AMERICAN MASTERS WEBSITE:
"American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future explores the life and visionary work of Finnish-American modernist architectural giant Eero Saarinen (1910‒1961). Best known for designing National Historic Landmarks such as St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch and the General Motors Technical Center (Warren, Mich.), Saarinen also designed New York’s TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Yale University’s Ingalls Rink and Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Virginia’s Dulles Airport, and modernist pedestal furniture like the Tulip chair. His sudden death at age 51 cut short one of the most influential careers in American architecture."
"Saarinen’s son, director of photography and co-producer Eric Saarinen, ASC (Lost in America, The Hills Have Eyes, Exploratorium), visits the sites of his father’s work on a cathartic journey, shot in 6K with the latest in drone technology that showcases the architect’s body of timeless work for the first time. The documentary also features rare archival interviews with Eero and his second wife, The New York Times art critic Aline Saarinen, as well as letters and quotations from Aline’s memoirs voiced respectively by Peter Franzén and Blythe Danner."
"“Closure was something I didn’t have with my dad. But I forgive him for his genius,” said Eric Saarinen, ASC. “He figured out a way to be important across time, so even though he died young, he is still alive.”"
"The son of prominent Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and textile designer Loja Saarinen, Eero was surrounded by design his whole life, as was his son Eric, whose mother Lily Saarinen was a sculptor, artist and educator. Immigrating at the age of 13 to Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Eero attended Cranbrook Academy of Art, designed by Eliel, who taught there and became the school’s first president as well as the chief architect of the Cranbrook campus, with Eero designing details like gargoyles and chairs. Eric also grew up at Cranbrook with his parents, grandparents, their friends and collaborators, including his godparents, designers Charles and Ray Eames."
"“This film is both an immersive look at an architect’s work and a father-son story across generations. Once Eric agreed to go on this journey with me, I knew the results would be compelling and revealing,” said Emmy-, Peabody- and DGA Award-winning filmmaker Peter Rosen (American Masters — Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler, American Masters — Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, American Masters — Rubinstein Remembered)."
"In American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, Eric also tours North Christian Church and the Miller House (both National Historic Landmarks in Columbus, Ind.), Deere & Company World Headquarters (Moline, Ill.) and MIT’s Kresge Auditorium (Cambridge, Mass.). The documentary features new interviews with architects Kevin Roche, César Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, and Robert A. M. Stern, and industrial designer Niels Diffrient, who all worked with or were influenced by Saarinen. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, curator Donald Albrecht (Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future), author Jayne Merkel (Eero Saarinen) and Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, also provide perspectives on why Saarinen’s work stands apart and continues to inspire, especially amongst renewed interest in 20th-century architects and artists."
"Launched in 1986, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, the American Masters website (http://pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, educational resources and In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive: previously unreleased interviews of luminaries discussing America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants as well as the American Masters Podcast. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel."
"American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future is a co-production of Peter Rosen Productions, Inc., THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET, and Detroit Public Television in association with YLE. Peter Rosen is producer and director. Eric Saarinen, ASC, is director of photography and co-producer. Blythe Danner is the voice of Aline Saarinen. Peter Franzén is the voice of Eero Saarinen. Kris Liem and Adam Zucker are editors with music by Moby. Sandra Vaughan is co-producer and Robert L. Ziegelman, FAIA, is associate producer and consultant. Michael Kantor is executive producer for American Masters."
"Major funding for American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future is provided by the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation. Additional funding is provided in part by American Institute of Architects, National Endowment for the Arts, The Durst Family, Vital Projects Fund, Eric and Katherine Larson Family Fund, MCR Development LLC, Gerald D. Hines, Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, KieranTimberlake, KPF Foundation, and Daryl and Steven Roth Foundation."
"Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Lenore Hecht Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers."