Tag Archives: ZACH BRAFF

THE ORIGINALITY OF BEING ORIGINAL

September 21, 2018

A bold proposal: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, California (photo by Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)

In the 2004 film, Garden State, Natalie Portman asks Zach Braff, “You know what I do when I feel completely unoriginal?” She then performs a few awkward dance moves accompanied by shrieking and squealing.

Portman states, “I make a noise, or I do something that no one has ever done before, and then I can feel unique, even if it is only for like, a second.”

She proclaims, “You just witnessed a completely original moment.”

Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004)

I ask this: Is there such a thing as originality, and is there value to being original?

left: Cambridge Center for Visual Arts, Massachusetts (photo from lescoulerus.ch); right: Kenneth Cooper House, Orleans, Massachusetts (photo from Gwathmey on Twitter)

For the first question, originality is hard to spot. Sometimes we see it and are convinced that we are experiencing something original. Later, we realize that it derivative of something else, or simply part of an evolution of ideas throughout time.

upper: Casa Prieto Lopez, Mexico (photo from pinsdaddy.com); lower: Villa Sotogrande, Spain (photo by Hector Gazguez)

Additionally, two creators could come up with the same original idea. Having done so independently, we still claim that each person’s idea is indeed original.

To the second question, what value is there in being original? Is there purpose to being novel for novelty’s sake, or being unusual simply for being different? For the most part, being forcefully unique in the creative process has little weight. But here and there, that one innovative idea might be the catalyst that ignites a truly original invention from another innovator, artist or genius. In the arc of evolving ideas, I personally assign value to those that seek to be novel if only to do something different.

As unique and bizarre as the examples below are, one might say that they serve no purpose other than to indulge an architect’s whimsical agenda. On the other hand, these examples do no harm (do they?) and again, they might prompt me to challenge my own creative complacency.

upper left: Sarpi Border Checkpoint, Georgia (photo from archiobjects.org); upper right: Louis Vuitton, London, England (photo from highsnobiety.com); lower left: Urban Interiorities, Tokyo, Japan (photo from archiobjects.org); lower right: Elbphilharmonic Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany (photo from homedit.com)

Additionally, originality has to do with context. Just because one person experiences something as original, does the creation in question automatically win the label of originality? A tree does make a sound in the forest even if no one is listening. Also, you did have a great vacation even if you forgot to Instagram your photos. Similarly, if an unaware person experiences originality, like a child discovering ice cream for the first time, then so be it.

Bust of Ludwig Van Beethoven (photo from evastegeman.com)

In regards to context and evolution, Beethoven’s third and final period of composing was so original that it left his colleagues far behind in terms of creativity. In such works as Beethoven’s Late Great Piano Sonatas, no one could understand what the mad composer had written, and the result was the breaking of the linear progression of music evolution. Not only did composers leave Beethoven’s third period of work unstudied until decades later, colleagues like Schubert and Schumann chose to pick up where Beethoven left off in his second period. Because they just didn’t understand what the heck was going on in this third period of original music.

The Shape of Water (2017)

Though last year’s The Shape of Water took home the award for Best Picture, I found the movie an unoriginal creation. Fully packed with weary story clichés and formulaic visual devices, critics everywhere complained of similarities of this Oscar-winning film to 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1969’s Let Me Hear You Whisper, and 1984’s Splash, just to name a few. Regardless of being unoriginal accompanied by one legal case of plagiarism, The Shape of Water collected three additional Academy Awards with record-setting 13 nominations, alongside box office accolades.

As I work hard to offer innovative ideas to the world,  perhaps recognition will arrive at my doorstep if I simply discard the pursuit of originality, and instead copy, imitate or steal. (Not serious, of course.)

(I further studied the idea of uniqueness in design and style with my companion essay, It All Sounds the Same to Me.)

CELLULOID HEROES

May 27, 2016

Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949), Robert Reed in The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), Charles Bronson in the Death Wish (1974), Paul Newman in Towering Inferno (1974)

Why are there so many architects in the movies and on TV?

In most cases, the fact that an actor is an architect on the small or big screen is superfluous to the actual plot. Though a popular trope, the role of the architect is no more than a characteristic, a trait assigned to the male lead, and in fewer cases the female lead, only to provide substance and gravitas.

This matter—the truth and accuracy of how architects are portrayed by Hollywood—is frequent coffee room or cocktail hour chatter among practicing architects. We are at turns offended or flattered, but always perplexed.

Here are the basic elements of the architect-in-entertainment mix-and-match dramatis personae toolkit:

 – affluent, but not necessarily rich
 – thoughtful and introspective
 – attractive
 – cultured
 – sensitive
 – artistic-with-a-job
 – highly intelligent
 – coolly professional

Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987), Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991), Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987), Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991), Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)

The writer and director of Sleepless in Seattle needed Tom Hanks to be the reserved, artistic businessman at the center of the story, so they made him an architect, not a poet, cop, or hedge fund manager. They also didn’t want Hanks actually being an architect most of the time. Those paying to watch a romantic comedy with Meg Ryan want to see Hanks as the sensitive, romantic architectural designer with an ideal nature, not Tom Hanks as a real architect trying to restart his laptop because the Revit software has crashed again, and then spending the rest of his day slaving for a client who can’t decide whether the exterior paint should be tan, sand, or beige, or whether the bathroom tile should be ivory, buff, egg shell, or ecru. Also, Hanks can’t spend his time hitting the pavement hoping to find another commission so he can pay his office rent.

Poets, cops, and denizens of Wall Street are equally charged character fodder, but for different purposes. The architect character is altruistic, worldly, cool, but not too cool, well dressed, and established. Architects are also considered not wild, emotional, or too, too sexy. (I would sometimes like to be, or at least thought of as being, one or two of those things.)

In a drama, the architect is the cool center, and often needs the supplement of other traits from the screenwriters’ playbook, such as diplomatic jury member or struggling educator, to beef up the character’s potentially monochromatic dimension. In comedy, the architect’s impartiality allows other cast members to shine uncontested with wit and satire. Architects are safe non-distractions.

Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994), Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996), Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996), Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994), Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996), Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996), Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)

Here’s a partial list of movies featuring architects:

Boris Karloff in The Black Cat (1934)
Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949)
Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men (1957)
Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960)
Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now (1973)
Charleton Heston in Earthquake (1974)
Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987)
Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991)
Steve Martin in HouseSitter (1992)
Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994)
Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996)
Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996)
Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree (1998)
Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999)
Billy Crudup in World Traveler (2001)
Liam Neeson in Love Actually (2003)
Ashton Kutcher in Butterfly Effect (2004)
Michael Keaton in White Noise (2005)
Adam Sandler in Click (2006)
Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006)
Virginia Madsen in Firewall (2006)
Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)
Luke Wilson in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
Tom Everett Scott in Because I Said So (2007)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Steve Martin (again) in It’s Complicated (2009)
Ellen Page in Inception (2010)
Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011)

Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999), Adam Sandler in Click (2006), Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006), Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)
Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999), Adam Sandler in Click (2006), Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006), Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)

Except for the Gary Cooper role, which came with the heavy expectation associated with Ayn Rand’s bestselling and controversial novel, The Fountainhead, I suspect most do not recall that the actors above portrayed architects. That’s how well the role was written and the stereotype applied. And as to the stereotype syncing with the real world, the roles are mostly male, reflecting an issue in the real architectural world, though that is changing for the better.

Serious movie fans will note some omissions on my list. I did not list the following, for the reasons stated:

Paul Newman in Towering Inferno: He’s really playing an architect in a real design and construction crisis, not playing a stereotype.

“The Architect” in the The Matrix movies: He’s not a builder of buildings per se, but a builder of an entire future world, which I certainly envy, but not quite to that extent, my ego aside.

Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies: As he is a vigilante murderer, I invoke the “exception proves the rule” cliché. Architects can be cool, but not cool killers.

For my full feature essay, go to the Film and Music Issue of the recent LA Home.

Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009), Ellen Page in Inception (2010), Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011), Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009), Ellen Page in Inception (2010), Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011), Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
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