Beginning as a commercial architect in New York City after emigrating from China in the 50s, I.M. Pei gained attention when his proposal for the John F. Kennedy Memorial was selected over others from high-profile peers of the 60s. Construction never happened when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, but in the intervening years, Pei has designed some of the most beautiful, striking buildings around the world.
You don't have to be a fan of architecture to appreciate the thought and diligence of a great builder, but if you've seen just pictures of the glass pyramid that graces the Louvre in Paris – that's a Pei original.
HVE's disc includes Peter Rosen's excellent documentary on the quintessential 20th Century architect – inspired by the systems of order from the family rock garden in China, to modern construction techniques – Pei's designs are catered to the needs of each client, and the building's functionality, but Rosen's doc is more than a graceful journey through some of Pei's best-known buildings.
Filmed during the completion of the Miho Museum in Japan, there's a moment where the architect is driven through a mountain tunnel – designed by himself, of course – and sees the active construction that dominates a unique suspension bridge. Suddenly the face of the senior builder bubbles with excitement, and it's plain to see why Pei has returned from retirement to accept special projects. He's an excited youth, and his greatest pleasure comes from watching people assemble and socialize within in his work.
Rosen follows Pei through several completed projects, piping elegant Bach music over montages that, as much as video can allow, give us a sense of Pei's corridors, arches, stairwells, and omnipresent windows. Intercut between key project profiles are many personable interviews with Pei; a graceful, elegant raconteur, he's also an absolute gentleman who explains his craft without highbrow attitude, and transfers his excitement straight to the viewer.
As a postscript to the first doc, the DVD also includes a separate work, “Museum on the Mountain,” which follows the complete development of the Miho Museum – a private collection of rare antiquities from around the world carefully housed in a series of deeply submerged buildings within the isolated summit of one of Japan's most remote, environmentally protected valleys.
Rosen's second doc weaves through the proposal stage, compromising phases, and complex construction steps that had to abide by Japan's strict codes without damaging the area, and completing the complex with a very short time. Cultural differences and classic problem-solving become pivotal plot points, and “Museum” is the perfect capper for an affectionate portrait of a master builder.
HVE's transfers are very clean, and Bach's ebullient music – a favourite of the architect – is nicely mixed with the soothing narration, and Pei's own inimitable voice. The large collection of photos provide a good portfolio of Pei's international designs, and the cover art nicely shows off the Bank of China tower.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan