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A memorable portrait of a largely unknown artist.

Movie Review: My Father The Genius

Written by Caballero Oscuro

It’s fitting that this documentary opens with a quote from Ayn Rand’s landmark novel, The Fountainhead, especially because the central subject is so closely similar to Rand’s creation. Like Rand’s character Howard Roark, Glen Small is an architect with a singular vision, completely devoted to pursuing his unique passion in spite of its direct opposition to the mainstream architecture of the day. He cares nothing about financial gain or impressing potential clients, he only longs to fulfill his innovative designs. That the documentary so closely captures his ambitions and failures is clearly aided by the long history he has with its director, his daughter.

The film bears unavoidable comparisons to the similar documentary, My Architect, but where that work was a reverential study of a famous architect by his mostly enraptured son, this film takes pains to show the negative impact Glen’s passion had on his family relationships and career aspirations. Director Lucia Small also acts as narrator, describing her personal experiences with the distant father who was always more interested in his architecture than he was in his family. She also puts her father on the spot with pointed questions about his abandonment of her mother and sisters, and records completely candid confessions from her father in return. He recognizes that he made errors in his personal and professional relationships, but he really doesn’t care, his only interest is pursuing his art.

The film also tracks the deconstruction of the traditional American family unit, introducing us to Glen’s conservative first wife and sharing clean-cut family pictures that look like something out of Leave It To Beaver, then progressing through Glen’s gradual removal from his family, adoption of hippie hair and clothes, and his subsequent mind-expanding architectural designs that bear the stamp of far too many nights spent with fellow Masked Movie Snob Fumo Verde. He went on to marry again and start another family, before also leaving them behind to continue his artistic pursuits.

Glen Small never became a success, theoretically because he refused to play the political game of winning favor with influential colleagues and clients. There’s some amusing footage from the ‘70s where he verbally attacks his contemporaries in a public forum, including now-famous Frank Gehry. He shows no regret for the negative impact of his actions, or the paltry financial existence he managed to eke out through the years, consistently maintaining faith in his vision. While Lucia struggles with her own ambivalence about her father throughout the making of the film, her compelling documentary paints a memorable portrait of this largely unknown artist.

The DVD is packed with extras including a lengthy “filmmaker and father” interview, a short ‘70s film about one of Glen’s favorite projects, and a preview of what might be Glen’s second act, a planned sequel to this film. The DVD is now available, for more information visit the website.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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