DATELINE: Gateway to Modern Architecture
American Masters did a one-hour biography of the notable architect whose name dominates New York Timescrossword puzzles. Of course, he is one of the most modern of all kinds of American architects (by way of Finland as a boy).
Saarinen is best known as the man who designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, iconic like the Pyramid of Giza. He wanted something to last 1000 years—and his arch may well reach that grandeur.
This documentary is mostly narrated by his son Eric who is a noted film cinematographer—not following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. He was alienated from his pater, but this film (he confesses) has changed him by seeing what marvels his father created: from a John Deere office building to Kresge Auditorium at MIT, or even a hockey rink at Yale.
His aides told him all hockey rinks were barns, so he designed one at Yale that is staggering in its Norse winter sports notions.
His father was hard to eclipse. Eero grew up with his father’s friends Gustav Mahler and Sibelius hanging around the house. He was bounced on Frank Lloyd Wright’s knee. Heavens, he was destined to create great buildings.
He made only one house—a glass marvel with stunning modern light. He is airier and brighter than Wright.
Yet, we must admit that these creative geniuses are not particularly good at being a family man. Eero was not an exception, but his second wife got him on the cover of Time—and the rest is history.
Shatner’s UnXplained recently claimed his great Arch is meant as a weather control system to deflect thunder and lightning. No such grandiose claims are made here—only breathtaking buildings and grounds, not to mention furniture.
He worked 60 years ago, but looks more modern than anything done today. This film also collects the withering criticism he took over his designs—by those who felt he pandered to 1950s American commerce. How wrong can they be?
We once heard an architectural critique as “nobody wants to live in someone else’s head.” Alas, most heads are devoid of creativity, individuality, or good taste. Thank heavens for Saarinen.