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Top Ten Movie Architects

A countdown of the greatest films that use and abuse the idea of the architect.

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by Henderson Downing, for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2005
Remember Newton Davis? Stourley Kracklite? Doug Roberts?

Movies usually portray architects in two ways: either as a portrait of the artist as a megalomaniac or in a context where the occupation is incidental to the plot. Here's my top ten countdown of the greatest films that use and abuse the idea of the 'architect' - with apologies to all those Tom Selleck fans who hoped that there might be a space in the list for his performance in 'Three Men and a Baby'.

10. DEATH WISH (1974)
Commodity: Charles Bronson as the Vitruvius of vigilantes.
Firmness: Preparing the foundation for those sequels that illustrate how architects as well as film-makers like to unimaginatively plunder the formula that made them famous.
Delight: Michael Winner slumped in the Director's chair sleazily caressing his cigar to the saccharine evil of Herbie Hancock's jazz-funk score.

Commodity: Woody Harrelson as a bankrupt architect.
Firmness: Demi Moore as his bankrupt realtor wife.
Delight: Las Vegas and Robert Redford's million-dollar proposition that Moore should turn whore (if only Woody had been able to write to OutsideLeft's Dear Girl for advice this movie would be higher in the list).

Commodity: Steve Martin giving an uncanny impersonation of Peter Eisenman.
Firmness: Kookie con-artist Goldie Hawn as 'the Ernest Hemingway of bullshit'.
Delight: It's a personal issue relating to a certain blue door in West London but I was gratified to discover that the red-ribbon wrapped set built for this movie had people trekking all over New England asking locals for directions to the dreamhouse.

Commodity: Gary Cooper is the eponymous architect hired by the Duke of Towers.
Firmness: The Duchess of Towers turns out to be Ibbetson's long-lost childhood sweetheart. Enter death, incarceration, and a heavy dose of Oneirine.
Delight: There was enough l'amour fou in this tragic romance for both Andre Breton and Luis Bunel to claim this as a surrealist classic.

Commodity: Gary Cooper as the uncompromising Howard Roark.
Firmness: For over fifty years the laughable image of Roark has embodied the popular view of architects. Until this film is deservedly forgotten how can the poor things prove otherwise?
Delight: Guessing which elements of Roark were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

5. DON"T LOOK NOW (1973)
Commodity: Grief-ridden Donald Sutherland restoring an old Venetian church.
Firmness: Sometimes a non-linear narrative more difficult to follow than a dwarf in a red-coat becomes disturbingly satisfying.
Delight: Julie Christie and DS intercut into movie fucklore.

Commodity: Brian Dennehy attempting to curate an exhibition in honour of his visionary 18th century predecessor Boulle
Firmness: Rome's domes, Dennehy's expanding cancerous gut, his pregnant wife, get the connections?
Delight: To add insult to adultery, Greenaway names the cuckolded architect 'Stourley Kracklite'.

3. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
Commodity: Mervyn Johns as the workaday architect visiting a country house and assorted guests all of which he recognizes from a recurring nightmare.
Firmness: One of the greatest British films of all time. Seriously.
Delight: Michael Redgrave as the schizoid ventriloquist (inspiring Hitchcock's 'Psycho').

2. THE BLACK CAT (1934)
Commodity: Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig, one of those psychopathic Satan-worshipping modernist architects who hangs the preserved corpses of his sacrificed lovers in glass-coffins along the corridors of his pseudo-Bauhaus mansion erected on top of a dynamite-filled former military fortress. You know the type.
Firmness: The first film to feature Karloff and Bela Lugosi together.
Delight: Karloff's haircut and outfit, Lugosi's slow realization that he might be playing the hero.

Commodity: Paul Newman as Doug Roberts. Could there be a cooler architect?
Firmness: Steve McQueen rejecting the Roberts role to play Fire Chief O'Hallorhan (and insisting that he has the exact same number of lines as Newman).
Delight: Too many to list. But how about the following laconic exchange between two great cinematic icons:
McQueen: Architects.
Newman: Yeah, it's all our fault.

And, er, talking of great cinematic icons, please remember that with both Keanu Reeves and Jude Law playing architects in forthcoming films all positions are subject to change.

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Henderson Downing

Henderson Downing has written for various literary journals and small press magazines, he lives in London

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