Manny will be there in person introduce the film
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Documentary filmmaking as aesthetic experience is on display not only with the release of “Pow Wow” but also with the belated release, at Metrograph, of Manfred Kirchheimer’s 2006 film “Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan.” In its shape, it’s a straightforward history of the development of skyscrapers, first in Chicago in the nineteenth century, then in New York in the twentieth, and the artistic and personal conflicts that are embodied in their architectural styles. Kirchheimer contrasts the classicizing (and commercializing) Europhilia of the architect Daniel Burnham with Sullivan’s overtly progressive democratic idealism. Kirchheimer is upfront, even in the title, about his own sympathies. In that contrast, he demonstrates why Burnham’s practice triumphed in its time, and he sees the mid-twentieth-century rise of the International Style as yet another, posthumous repudiation of Sullivan’s vision.
Kirchheimer’s analytical history, backed up by a well-researched commentary (spoken by Dylan Baker) and a wealth of archival photographs and illustrations, offers fascinating asides about technologies, personalities, and politics—but it gets its main force from its present-tense artistry. Many of the buildings under discussion in “Tall” still exist, and Kirchheimer, doing his own camera work, films them with a trenchant, passionate eye that gives urbanism and its human implications a vital cinematic identity. Gazing from afar at the soaring skylines, catching geometrical rhythms at revelatory angles, Kirchheimer reveals the impersonal and forbidding city to be the imprints of the human touch—and he turns a film about vast industrial achievements into a seemingly handmade creation. In the process, he bends the technical art of filmmaking and the technical art of architecture into mirror images of each other, recalcitrant materials rendered personal through force of ideas, of ideals, of method, and of character.