Cathedrals of Culture (2014)

When six world renowned filmmakers – including Robert Redford and the late Austrian director Michael Glawogger – were asked to make short films for a television series about pioneering buildings of cultural influence, the results were never going to be boring. Cathedrals of Culture‘s six thirty minute shows – gathered here as one film – are nothing if not thought provoking.

The selection of some buildings chosen for inclusion seems odd. One can appreciate the presence of The Pompidou Centre – Paris’ famous hub for the arts, co-designed by the 1970s architectural enfant terrible Richard Rogers. But that of Norway’s Halden Prison may seem a little more obscure. Undoubtedly a beautiful building – with the air of a futuristic, if stark, hotel, when compared with the bleakness of your standard prison – it has to be questioned whether this really qualifies it as a cultural centre?

Questions also arise as to why, with so many inspiring buildings out there, they included two musical centres – Germany’s Berlin Philharmonic building and the Opera House in Oslo, Norway – as well as two from Norway? How about the British Museum’s Great Court representing England – a country which has produced more than its fair share of culturally iconic edifices, but which isn’t mentioned here. That said those which are, are indeed mesmerising and undoubtedly socially influential. Russia’s National Library in St Petersburg – though dilapidated when compared with the other pristine buildings included – has a pre Cold War archaic’ness, lending its dim corridors and miles of shelving crammed with dusty tomes, a romantic and bohemian charm perfectly suited to housing works of literature and academia.

Viewing art can be problematic. Anything more than half an hour in a gallery and you can be ‘blinded’ by what’s on display: you may continue to take in the experience as a whole, but start failing to focus on individual pieces. The same goes for watching Cathedrals of Culture. The various segments when seen individually are mesmerising – the hypnotic images of the buildings, their interiors and the people and things which inhabit them are engrossing if watched briefly for half an hour. Viewing them altogether however, results in a sensation akin to sensory overload.

Cathedrals of Culture is a wonderfully luxurious treat. But, like a piece of rich gateaux, it should be sampled one slice at a time in order to truly appreciate the beauty of its individual ingredients.

Cleaver Patterson

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