Cinema of Space

By Dawson, Nick | Filmmaker, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Cinema of Space


Dawson, Nick, Filmmaker


At his excellent BLDGBLOG (bldgblog.blogspot.com), Geoff Manaugh offers a smart, original perspective on architecture by connecting it with various other disciplines including, this spring, film.

"It often seems like the most extraordinary spatial designs being produced today are not coming out of architecture offices but from the back lots of Sony or Lionsgate, where new places-sometimes whole cities-are dreamed up with an imaginative freedom you often find squeezed out of architecture programs in the name of historical rigor," says Manaugh, a futurist who was previously a senior editor at Dwell magazine. "One thing that frustrates me about architectural writing today, for instance, is how rarely critics will look at anything other than real buildings. It's far more likely that a new museum, with only 100,000 visitors per year, will be reviewed and discussed, while a multimillion dollar film set, seen by millions of people around the world, is somehow dismissed as nonarchitectural."

In the summer of 2011, Manaugh changed coasts, leaving Los Angeles ("by far my favorite city in the United States") for New York City to oversee, with his wife Nicola Twilley, Studio-X NYC. Funded by Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and located near the Holland Tunnel, Studio-X NYC is described by Manaugh as an "off-campus event space, gallery, classroom and urban futures think tank" devoted to exploring the future of cities. By definition an outside-the-box thinker, Manaugh pledged immediately to invite figures from "diverse backgrounds-natural history, epidemiology, crime and policing, fiction and film, architecture, archaeology, industrial design, psychology, comparative mythology, and more to give talks or organize small exhibitions" at Studio-X NYC.

As away of engaging people in a discussion of the relationship between architecture and film, Manaugh conceived Breaking Out and Breaking In: A Distributed Film Fest of Prison Breaks and Bank Heists. Described as "basically just a book club, with films," the festival - which began on Jan. 27, and which has Filmmaker as a partner - involves people watching in their own home the movies chosen by Manaugh, and then discussing them on Manaugh's blog. The diverse slate of films ranges from classics of French cinema, such as Renoir's Grand Illusion, Bresson's A Man Escaped and Dassin's Rififi, to recent Hollywood titles such as The Italian Job, Inside Man and Inception.

Asked about why heist films and escape movies are such a perfect entry point into a dialogue about cinematic architecture, Manaugh explains, "Buildings are like puzzles: when you go into a new building, you're immediately looking for doorways out or halls leading to the next room. You try to figure out the space you're in-to find the bathroom, to locate the stairs-or you start wondering what's behind that closed door. Escape films and break-ins just foreground all that; they turn the setting itself into the engine of the story. It's like the labyrinth scene in The Name of the Rose, where Sean Connery's character advises Christian Slater how not to get lost the spaces around us have rules and limitations, and we can either learn those rules and use the space properly, or we can find ways to cheat, to go through walls, to sneak into places we're not supposed to be. …

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