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Antonio Gaudí (1961)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Antonio Gaudí (1961)
For Monitor, BBC, tx. 3/12/1961
15 mins, black and white
Directed byKen Russell
Production CompanyBBC Television
Produced byHumphrey Burton
 Nancy Thomas
CommentaryHuw Wheldon

A study of Antoni Gaudí's architecture (especially the Church of the Holy Trinity in Barcelona), his sources of inspiration and his influence on Picasso.

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Although Ken Russell had occasionally ventured further afield than south-east England to make his Monitor documentaries (examples including Miners' Picnic, tx. 3/7/1960 and Shelagh Delaney's Salford, tx. 25/9/1960), this study of the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) marked his first trip abroad. It was also Russell's first programme specifically about architecture, though he had shown a strong awareness of the medium's visual possibilities in his very first Monitor film, A Poet in London (tx. 1/3/1959).

Gaudí as a subject proved ideal, his extraordinary creations (calling them "buildings" seems somehow inadequate, especially as Gaudí often designed the furniture within them as well) being as flamboyantly startling as anything in Russell's own output. As with Old Battersea House (tx. 4/6/1961), a few months earlier, the film's subject produced more than enough spectacular images for Russell to have to do much more than point his camera at them.

Accordingly, Antonio Gaudí (the film is titled with the Spanish version of his name) is a relatively straightforward guide to his most memorable creations. We visit the Casa Batlló, inspired by the legend of St George and the Dragon, and are told that the unique shapes of the corridor arches at the Colegio de las Teresianas were based on an equation that Gaudí devised, which combined a parabolic arch with a mathematical representation of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The function of the columns in the Santa Colona chapel is explained, as are the rationales behind the Park Güell and the Casa Milà, both originally intended as domestic housing units. Huw Wheldon's commentary highlights many of the most distinctive features of Gaudí's art, notably his refusal to work with straight lines (on the grounds that they do not occur in nature) and his unique "dripping rock" effects, inspired by the landscape of his native Catalonia.

But all this, as with Gaudí's work in general, is a build-up to his masterpiece, the Cathedral 'La Sagrada Familia' (Holy Family) in Barcelona. Intended as a summation of his art, it was left unfinished at his death, and because he never kept notes and his working models were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, attempts at realising the full scale of his plans have been tentative. The film ends with a hint that the project has finally got underway, but it's since been provisionally scheduled for completion in 2026, a full century after its creator's death.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Casa Batlló (1:30)
2. Dripping rocks (1:25)
3. The Santa Colona (1:01)
4. Gaudí's masterpiece (2:02)
Burton, Humphrey (1931-)
Wheldon, Sir Huw (1916-1986)
Ken Russell: The Monitor Years