Film by Kaspar Astrup Schröder
Good Company Pictures (90 minutes)
WHEN FILMMAKER KASPAR ASTRUP SCHRÖDER began documenting the life and work of Bjarke Ingels, his subject’s phenom status was already beyond doubt. The charismatic namesake of BIG had realized more designs than professionals twice his age – more polemical ones, too. But if Ingels’ burgeoning fame convinced Schröder to invest years in trailing the architect, then celebrity also places the burden of persuasion on Schröder’s final product. Why should an audience, especially one composed of architecture buffs, root for so obvious a hero?
Big Time was first released in Copenhagen this past spring, and overnight reviews described the film as a recounting of Ingels’ exhausting climb, and holding on, to fame. Some childhood reminiscences excepted, Schröder in fact offers little of the architect’s origin story, and scant explanation of his design method. The film implies that present-day success comes relatively naturally. Concern over insurance liabilities at the Amager Bakke waste-to-energy plant elicits the lightest handwringing; the developer of Manhattan “courtscraper” Via 57 West likens risk to inevitable rewards, not a source of anxiety. Perhaps Schröder directed architect and clients to re-enact history.
He finds a more willing antagonist around the halfway mark, when the music echoes American Beauty and MRI scans fill the interstitial frames: a concussion is producing debilitating headaches in Ingels, in perfect lockstep with increasing pressure to win business and to micromanage projects. Ultimately, the dramatization shows itself. A brain cyst proves incidental, BIG earns the commission for 2 World Trade Center, and Ingels gets the girl. Fame is manageable, after all. Existential crisis averted.
That’s too bad for Schröder, because self-reflection looks good on Ingels. In recurring talking-head shots, the architect speaks compellingly about material history, design strategy and personal legacy. Such moments appear too rarely in Big Time. By instead casting about for a narrative arc, the film does not so much reveal a great Danish mind as market architecture as a profession of easy triumphs and accolades.