Modernism at the Movies ACMI and Open House Melbourne presents

Eero Saarinen

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“I forgive him for his genius”

Eric Saarinen

Best known for designing historic landmarks such as St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch and the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, Eero Saarinen (1910-1961)  also designed New York’s gloriously futuristic TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Yale University’s Ingalls Rink, and modernist pedestal furniture such as the iconic Tulip chair for Florence Knoll. His sudden death at age 51 cut short one of the most influential careers in American architecture. 

Saarinen’s son, director of photography and co-producer Eric Saarinen, ASC (The Hills Have Eyes), visits the sites of his father’s work on a cathartic journey, shot in 6K with the latest in drone technology that showcases the architect’s body of timeless work for the first time. The documentary also features rare archival interviews with Eero and his second wife, The New York Times art critic Aline Saarinen, as well as letters and quotations from Aline’s memoirs voiced respectively by Peter Franzén and Blythe Danner. 

The son of prominent Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and textile designer Loja Saarinen, Eero was surrounded by design his whole life, as was his son Eric, whose mother Lily Saarinen was a sculptor, artist and educator. Immigrating at the age of 13 to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Eero attended Cranbrook Academy of Art, designed by Eliel, who taught there and became the school’s first president as well as the chief architect of the Cranbrook campus, with Eero designing details like gargoyles and chairs. Eric also grew up at Cranbrook with his parents, grandparents, their friends and collaborators, including his godparents, designers Charles and Ray Eames.

Eric also tours the North Christian Church and the Miller House (both feature prominently in the feature film Columbus, screening as part of this season). The documentary features new interviews with architects Kevin Roche, César Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, and Robert A.M. Stern, and industrial designer Niels Diffrient, who all worked with or were influenced by Saarinen. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, curator Donald Albrecht (Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future), author Jayne Merkel (Eero Saarinen) and Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, also provide perspectives on why Saarinen’s work stands apart and continues to inspire, especially amongst renewed interest in 20th-century architects and artists. WIth a soundtrack by Moby.