studio movie night

“Today, too, I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days.”

The other night in our Santa Monica studio, we hosted an inaugural movie night for our comrades in the architecture, design, and creative communities.  Our aim was to create a khora* to watch and discuss The Five Obstructions, directed by Lars von Trier and Jorgen Leth.  The evocative quote above comes from the film.

I might as well start off by saying I’ve been slightly obsessed by this collaboration between these two filmmakers since it first came out in 2003. It’s about as multi-layered as they come for us folks in creative fields, where the essence of our work consists of balancing our desire for artistic expression with respect for the directives of our patrons.

Here’s the scaffold of this film-within-a-film:

Jorgen Leth made an iconic short film in the 1960s called “The Perfect Human.”  It’s an exemplary modernist work—clean and minimal like a building by Mies van der Rohe—representative of its era.  Lars von Trier, an admirer of Leth, who is a full generation younger and produces work with an edgier sensibility representative of his era, acts as client/patron in this collaboration.  He directs Leth to remake “The Perfect Human” five times, each time with one (or more) obstructions imposed on the remake.  His undeniably perverse goal is for these obstructions to guarantee Leth’s remakes have none of the elegance and resolved perfection of the original.  In each case, however, Leth uses the obstructions as a device to ingeniously achieve elegance and perfection, each with freshness, integrity and artistry.  The joy of the film is to watch the complex relationship these two men have during this collaboration.

This feels true to our highest ambitions in our studio.  No client ever hires us to design something for them with no parameters.  As challenging as those parameters can be initially, we also realize that our design solutions are, in the end, more unique and have greater depth because of the parameters.  It also keeps our process fresh, alive, and elusive, because we can never understand what the solution will be at the outset.  Which brings us back to that iconic quote in the film.  We view the solution to every obstruction put in our path as something we hope to understand in a few days.  It takes faith, but the not-knowing is also quite thrilling.

*Khôra (also chora; ) Ancient Greek: χώρα, was the territory of the Ancient Greek polis outside the city proper and used in philosophy by Plato to designate a space, a material substratum, or an interval… “a place where things can happen”.

Bruce Norelius