top of page
  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

My Father The Genius (A Movie Review)


Featuring Glen Howard Small, Julie Small, Christine Small-Shook, Lucia Small, Ray Kappe, John Johansen, Thom Mayne, Michael Rendler, Ralph Mursinna, Greg Davis, David J. Mesa, Joanne Small-Eggert, Milica Didijer, Jan Mardian, Alan Nelson and Rose Nelson.

Written by Lucia Small.

Directed by Lucia Small.

Distributed by Metro Home Entertainment. 84 minutes. Not Rated.

I met Lucia Small, the director of this documentary, in 2002 at the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore, while we were both introducing films to be shown. This movie, in fact, was the one that she was there to display. We were being returned to our hotels in a van and talked a bit about why we were there. She told me a bit about her film about her father, his career as an architect and his strained relationships with his family. It sounded interesting and I was always disappointed that I had missed the showing of the film.

I never got a chance to see it until now, five years later, it is finally getting a video release. In the time since then, there has even been a somewhat similar documentary called My Architect – A Son's Journey, in which the estranged son of another famous architect, Louis I. Kahn, tries to come to grips with his late father through talking with his colleagues and exploring his work. Small had done the same thing years before, though for some reason the box for the DVD gives the copyright date as 2005, making it seem like Genius may have come out after Architect. (Even in you didn't know, you could tell it is an older film right on the box, in which a review compares it to The Royal Tenenbaums. Just for the record, it's a better film than Tenenbaums.)

Unlike My Architect, Small's father is still here to talk for himself. He is mostly a charming, intelligent, funny guy. At the same time he's somewhat selfish, more than occasionally delusional, a bit sexist and at the same time naively romantic and seems to have very little as far as a mental filter – he says everything he thinks without worrying how it will affect the person he is talking to. One of the most interesting sequences is some archival footage of Small essentially committing career suicide by mocking some of his professional cohorts on the dais at an architectural seminar.

Of course, part of his career problem is his inability to sacrifice his vision. Small's ideas are beautiful and revolutionary, but even as someone with little knowledge of architectural theory many of them seem like they would be nearly impossible to actually implement. So much of what he is doing seems to be from a science fiction film. Particularly Small's pet project, the Biomorphic Biosphere, which is a city above the ground like a giant mobile with very few points where it actually touches the ground. Most people wonder how all of the weight of the city will be able to be supported by these small points of contact with the ground, but that does not seem to concern Small. Needless to say it never really caught on.

His inability to compromise is even more pointed in his personal life. Glen Small loves women in theory but really has no understanding of them – or even really great need for them. He assumes that is should just be a given that his art and his career come first – an attitude which has caused ill feelings amongst his three exes and four daughters.

Even the creation of this film comes from directly from this feeling, although it also was a way of trying to find some healing with his daughter. One day, Glen contacted Lucia out of the blue telling her that she should write his biography so that his work would be chronicled. Instead she suggested a documentary, which he agreed to. Surprisingly, he allowed it to be a warts-and-all portrait, pleading his case for his work but also showing him to be flawed as a human being. It makes for fascinating viewing. (4/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: April 18, 2007.

bottom of page