Movie List
Loading ...
Find Theaters and Movie Times
Search Movies

Learning by doing

Karen Schmeer, Sidney Pollack, Frank Gehry
By GERALD PEARY  |  May 23, 2006

FIRST-TIMER: Sketches is Pollack’s debut documentary.

The way kids say, “I wanna be an astronaut, I wanna be a fireman,” Cambridge’s Karen Schmeer (full disclosure: my one-time girlfriend) insisted, “I can be a film editor,” though as a BU anthropology major, she graduated without a single production course. Interning for Errol Morris and becoming a whiz on Photoshop special effects, she kept her eyes on the Avid prize, where professional, veteran editors came and went, often after quarreling with Morris. The American Dream? One day, the Thin Blue Line director anointed Schmeer the chief editor of Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997), though she’d never cut anything before in her life, not even a student film. Schmeer was right: she could edit, she was a natural, and she’s stayed on with Morris since, co-editing the Oscar-winning The Fog of War (2003). Other Hub filmmakers have caught on, and she’s edited some of our best feature documentaries, Robb Moss’s The Same River Twice (2003) and Lucia Small’s My Father, the Genius (2002).

Because the latter was an astute documentary about an architect, and because of her banner work for Errol Morris, Schmeer was hired by Hollywood filmmaker Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Tootsie) to edit his first documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry, which opens this Friday at the Kendall Square. The post-production was done in an unusual way: Schmeer cut the footage in New York, Pollack would fly in from the West Coast and check things out, then fly back. To this day, she’s never met Frank Gehry. She knows him only by living intimately with his video image.

Did the collaboration work? “We got a great editor, we got lucky having Karen Schmeer,” Pollack graciously acknowledged when he discussed the film last month at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

How did his first non-fiction feature evolve? “I was in Europe opening a film that was a big flop,” Pollack said. “I was licking my wounds in Madrid, and Frank had sent me an invitation for the opening of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.” Pollack flew over in his private plane. “I turned a corner and looked at This Vision. I never felt that way about a building: it’s like Don Quixote got stoned. He lifted a lance and a building came out!

I looked in a window and there was schlubby Frank. He sees me, brings me inside.” And over dinner they got talking about doing a film together. Pollack: “I felt compelled to keep saying to Frank, ‘I’m totally illiterate about architecture. I didn’t study documentary.’ I wasn’t being coy. I was telling the truth. But I ended up doing it two or three weekends a month for five years. I brought to this doc whatever I know from features. I’m a victim of my own history, looking for a beginning, middle, end.”

Among those interviewed in the film about Gehry’s buildings are show-off painter Julian Schnabel and the now-deceased architect Philip Johnson. Pollack: “Schnabel’s great, crazy like a fox. It was his idea to be theatrical, so he asked, ‘What do you think if I was to wear a bathrobe and have a snifter of brandy?’ I said, ‘Okay, go for it.’ My talk with Johnson was his last interview. He was terribly sweet, very, very, old, and a huge fan of Frank’s. I wish you could hear better when he’s talking about Bilbao. I brought the camera in close, and he says, ‘Oh boy, oh boy!’ ”
Related: Karen Schmeer: 1970-2010, Bad seeds?, Photo op?, More more >
  Topics: Film Culture , Entertainment, Science and Technology, Robb Moss,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   REVIEW: LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE  |  March 12, 2013
    A decent little movie, but hardly a major one, from Iran's master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who, self-exiled, here shoots in Tokyo with an all-Japanese cast.
  •   REVIEW: THE GATEKEEPERS  |  February 26, 2013
    Great cinema journalism, The Gatekeepers was the National Society of Film Critics' winner for Best Documentary of 2012.
  •   REVIEW: THE LITTLE FUGITIVE (1953)  |  February 27, 2013
    It's the 60th anniversary of this pioneering American independent feature, which greatly influenced both cinema vérité documentarians and the French New Wave.
  •   REVIEW: HOW TO RE-ESTABLISH A VODKA EMPIRE  |  February 20, 2013
    Daniel Edelstyn launched this film project after reading the spirited diary of his late grandmother, Maroussia Zorokovich, whose wealthy Jewish family split from Ukraine as the Bolsheviks were taking control.
  •   REVIEW: HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA  |  February 12, 2013
    What Robert Flaherty did with title cards in his silent Nanook of the North , Werner Herzog manages with declamatory voiceover in Happy People : romanticization of the austere, self-reliant lives of hunters and trappers in the icebound north.

 See all articles by: GERALD PEARY