Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) designed some of the world’s most astonishing buildings, interiors, and parks; Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara constructed some of the most aesthetically audacious films ever made. In Antonio Gaudí, their artistry melds in a unique, enthralling cinematic experience. Less a documentary than a visual poem, Teshigahara’s film takes viewers on a tour of Gaudí’s truly spectacular architecture, including his massive, still-unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. With camera work as bold and sensual as the curves of his subject’s organic structures, Teshigahara immortalizes Gaudí on film.
Criterion upgrades their DVD edition of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Antonio Gaudí to Blu-ray, again presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. Criterion is reusing the same high-definition restoration and master that was used for that DVD edition, encoding it here at 1080p/24hz. The restoration was sourced from a scan of a 35mm low-contrast print that was struck from the negative.
Back in 2008 the DVD’s presentation looked great and I have to say it still looks great, even upscaled. The high-definition image here does provide a noticeable upgrade, though I can’t say it’s a significant one. The key improvements only come down to a few things: the window-boxed frame is now gone, colours manage to look a bit better (especially the reds), and compression is less of a concern, allowing for a cleaner and more natural looking picture. The DVD’s image looked sharp and that holds true here, but the improved definition allows the finer details and the textures found in Gaudí’s architecture to show through more. There’s definitely more of a photographic look, though grain rendering can leave a little to be desired: some scenes covering busy Barcelona streets presents grain that looks a little mushy, yet even when it is more distinct it can have a noisy look.
The source may have been cleaned up a bit more, though the DVD’s image was still incredibly clean when all was said and done. There are some colour fluctuations that remain, but they’re rare. For the most part colours are bright and wonderfully saturated, and black levels look spot-on. There can be an occasional shimmer in some of the tighter patterns, but outside of that and the iffy grain, digital anomalies are not a concern.
A newer scan and restoration would most certainly help, but as it is this high-definition presentation still holds up well and translates over to Blu-ray fine enough, but that’s all the high praise I can give it: the improvements over the DVD are the minimum ones you would hope for.
The film comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural presentation. There’s little spoken in the film with the soundtrack primarily consisting of Tôru Takemitsu’s score (which can have a more experimental, almost electronic vibe to it at times), which I found it a bit shrill and rough on the DVD. Though it can still have its harsher moments I think it comes off quite a ways cleaner here. A nice upgrade.
Criterion had put together a lovely 2-disc DVD edition for the film back in 2008 and thankfully they port everything over from it (to the single Blu-ray disc), though don’t offer any updates of any sort, not even a high-definition boost, presenting all of the material in standard-definition upscales.
First up, yet again, is a short film by Teshigahara called Gaudi, Catalunya, 1959, which chronicles a trip Hiroshi Teshigahara and his father, Sofu, made to Barcelona. Shot in 16mm and in colour, it does have a home movie kinda-feel, though Teshigahara uses similar techniques that he would employ Antonio Gaudí. Running almost 20-minutes, it chronicles his visit to Guell Park, Sagrada Familia, and with Salvador Dali. There is no sound, unfortunately, but it makes for an interesting viewing just to see Teshigahara discovering Gaudi’s work, and how this would lead up to his eventual feature film.
Criterion has also included a 13-minute interview with architect Arata Isozaki. In the interview he talks about his friendship with Hiroshi and also talks a bit about Hiroshi’s father and their relationship. He touches on Gaudi, even offering a brief analysis on his work and gets into the public opinion of Gaudí’s work, both good and bad; It was through this feature on the DVD where I originally learned of the popularity of Gaudí amongst the Japanese. It’s a decent, though brief interview.
For reissues and upgrades the last little while, Criterion has usually dropped material previously licensed from the BBC, so I was very pleased to see that the strongest supplement on the DVD, the one-hour documentary God’s Architect: Antoni Gaudí, made it over. This is an episode from the BBC architecture series Visions of Space and is hosted by art critic Robert Hughes. I think this works as a great compliment to Teshigahara’s film, which, while wonderfully done in showing off Gaudi’s art, doesn’t get into the history of the buildings or the man himself (some people will dismiss it as nothing more than a slideshow, which is unfortunate). This gets into more detail about Gaudi, who was obviously a very complicated man, and also offers a great examination of his work, and even offers a history as to how they came to be. Hughes visits the sites, even getting interviews with current owners of the buildings/properties, or people who live there or have worked there. The doc examines his influences, gives a bit of a bio, and looks into his intense Catholic beliefs, which shows up in all of his work (though it appears his clients had him hold back in at least one case, where his idea for a giant statue of the virgin Mary on the roof of one of his buildings was axed, more than likely a good thing.) Hughes expresses his honest opinion of Gaudi, who he seems to greatly admire (he has an obvious love for some of his work) but also seems very frustrated with in some cases. I was actually a little shocked at how harsh he was on Gaudí’s cathedral, Sagrada Familia. I have to admit I do agree with him on some things (the façade with all of the sculptures and the nativity is a little much), though think he may have been a little too mean. But I did chuckle at his comment when he makes a comparison between a few sculptures and Darth Vader. This leads, interestingly enough, into a little bit about the controversy surrounding the project. Sagrada Familia is still not completed, more than 80 years after Gaudí’s death and construction continues (as of now, the writing for the review of this Blu-ray edition, it’s planned to be finished by 2026—ha!) There’s debate on whether construction should even continue. Overall, it’s a great feature and is a must for anyone unfamiliar with Gaudí and his work, and maybe lost a bit by the film.
Adding on to the previous supplement, Criterion has also included a 16-minute segment on Gaudi made by Ken Russell from the BBC’s Monitor. This is sort of a brief tour of Gaudi’s work, presented in black and white, offering some information and history behind the buildings. Some of the material is covered in the previous supplement but overall it’s still very informative and worth watching, along with being a nice look at Russell’s earlier work.
Criterion then includes another short film by Hiroshi Teshigahara called Sculptures by Sofu – Vita. This 17-minute segment focuses on his father’s work for an exhibition. It begins with the exhibition being set up in black and white, and then in the same style of the film he films his father’s work, this time in colour, with another piercing score. It also shows his father at work. This is a decent supplement which I think shows Teshigahara’s admiration for his father and his work. A nice addition to the set.
The disc closes with a theatrical trailer, lasting a minute and a half. It’s in the same style of the film and it focuses on the cathedral Sagrada Familia. Criterion’s included booklet then serves to look more at how Teshigahara was impacted by Gaudi’s work and what led him to make the film. The booklet features an essay on Teshigahara’s trip to Spain and then his feature film, a reprinting of Teshigahara’s writings on his trip to the States and Europe(most of it is him recalling Gaudi’s work, and Salvador Dali even gets a mention), and then a reprint of an interview with Sofu and Hiroshi Teshigahara after their trip, accompanied by photos (including one of Dali).
Overall it’s still an impressive and engaging set of supplements, covering the film, the filmmaker, and Gaudi himself in great detail.
Though the film could use an all new restoration this Blu-ray upgrade still offers a nice looking high-definition presentation and the same solid collection of supplements.