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Thread: Gehry in Paris

  1. #1
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Default Gehry in Paris

    A New Life for a Has-Been, a Gehry Building

    October 26, 2005
    New York Times

    PARIS, Oct. 25 - For the better part of a decade, this city's only Frank Gehry building has been standing abandoned, a sad monument to a failed American dream.

    It was planned as a new headquarters for the American Center of Paris, which was founded in 1931 and had long drawn crowds to its rambling Left Bank home as a place to discover American culture and to learn English. But the dream of a dazzling image went sour. The new center opened in June 1994 - and closed just 19 months later.

    Bad planning was one culprit. The new center absorbed almost all the $42 million raised by the sale of the old center on the Boulevard Raspail, leaving little to cover its running costs. With a minimal endowment, dwindling private donations and no United States government support, the organization was forced to put Mr. Gehry's striking neo-Classical-style and Cubist creation up for sale.

    Now, thanks to the French government, the building has begun a new life, this time as the headquarters of the Cinémathèque Française, the legendary film center that was the cradle of the New Wave movies of the 1950's and 60's. To make this happen, the government chipped in about $21 million for the building and spent another $40 million on adapting its interior.

    Thierry Ardouin/Emol

    A Paris building by Frank Gehry is now the
    home of the Cinémathèque Française, a
    center for film.

    Extensive alteration was necessary. Originally designed around exhibition spaces, artists' studios and a state-of-the art theater, it now has to accommodate four new movie theaters of different sizes and France's Film Library. But the original atrium has survived, and two floors are still reserved for exhibitions, while its distinct exterior remains unchanged.

    What makes this transformation unusual is that it was not carried out by Mr. Gehry, although he did participate in the selection of Dominique Brard of l'Atelier de l'Île as the project's architect. "It's unique for someone else to rework a contemporary building designed by a living architect," Mr. Brard told Libération, the Paris daily. "Above all, Gehry!"

    Still, while Mr. Gehry's office said he would not comment on the results until he next visits Paris, the critical response has been positive. Frédéric Edelman, architecture critic for Le Monde, wrote that while using Mr. Gehry's "vocabulary" and material, Mr. Brard had given the building "new meaning and vitality," as if it were always intended to be a film center.

    But the Cinémathèque is not what it used to be. And the job of returning it to the heart of French cinema has now been assigned to the producer and director Claude Berri, as its president, and to Serge Toubiana, the former editor of the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, as its director-general. They can again count on support from the government, which will provide three-quarters of their $19.3 million annual budget.

    When the Cinémathèque was founded in 1936 to preserve, restore and screen movie classics, it was something of a novelty to treat cinema as art. Indeed, after World War II, under the legendary cinéphile Henri Langlois, it was there that New Wave directors like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer gathered to learn their métier from past masters.

    Their devotion to the Cinémathèque became apparent in February 1968, when France's culture minister, André Malraux, ousted Langlois as its director. These and other high-profile film directors rushed to his defense, while foreign support for Langlois came from Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin and many others. Three months later, Langlois returned to the Cinémathèque.

    In 1973, four years before his death, Langlois was awarded an honorary Oscar "for his devotion to the art of film, his massive contributions in preserving its past and his unswerving faith in its future."

    Since then, though, the Cinémathèque has had a restless history. In 1963 it was given a movie theater in the Palais de Chaillot, and a decade later, a cinema museum was opened. Then, from the 1980's, the talk was of installing a unified cinema institution in the Palais de Tokyo. But nothing had happened by the time a fire in 1997 temporarily evicted the Cinémathèque from the Palais de Chaillot.

    Finally, with the purchase of the former American Center in 1998, it was assigned a proper home. But in the meantime, the world of cinema had changed. There are now film schools for aspiring directors and actors, while film buffs can find much of what they need on videos, DVD's, all-movie satellite channels and the Internet.

    As the Cinémathèque starts a new life, then, it faces the new challenge of proving its relevance.

    Its film library remains a useful resource for researchers. One of the center's floors houses a cinema museum, which presents the early image-making devices known as magic lanterns; old cameras and projectors; costumes from famous productions like "Gone With the Wind"; posters; film clips from classics; an exact replica of the robot from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"; and even Langlois's Oscar statuette. The result is a walk through the history of movies.

    Another floor is given over to temporary exhibitions. The first, through Jan. 9, is "Renoir/Renoir," presented with the Musée d'Orsay, which draws parallels between the work of the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and that of his son, the great director Jean Renoir. Some of the parallels work: Renoir's "Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre" hangs beside a screen showing similar night-life scenes from his son's "Elena et les Hommes."

    More relevant, perhaps, is the Cinémathèque's movie program, which will show old and not-so-old classics - on average, nine different movies a day - as well as holding minifestivals devoted to particular artists. The first is about Jean Renoir, with the spotlight then turning successively on Michael Caine, Douglas Sirk, David Cronenberg and Louis Malle.

    Will the movie-loving public come? One problem the American Center faced was that Mr. Gehry's building is in the remote Bercy district of eastern Paris. A new Métro line now makes it more easily accessible, but the Cinémathèque is still far from the Left Bank homes of many film buffs.

    To draw them, then, it must offer programs unavailable elsewhere. As the American Center discovered, having a fancy building is not necessarily enough.

  2. #2


    i saw this building last week very unimpressive

  3. #3
    Forum Veteran
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    Nov 2002
    New York City


    Is that masonry?

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