November 09, 1998 12:00 PM

PBS (Tues.-Wed., Nov. 10-11, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

Early in this fascinating documentary we see Frank Lloyd Wright, then 90, unblushingly discussing the topic of his own greatness in a 1957 TV interview with Mike Wallace. He talks of shaking designs out of his sleeve, as if he were Merlin the architect. Why, the arrogance of the man. But it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up. This film by Ken Burns (The Civil War, Baseball) and Lynn Novick makes a convincing case for its subject as “the greatest of all American architects,” while acknowledging that Wright’s personal life was, shall we say, structurally unsound. Wright died in 1959, several months before the opening of one of his most famous and controversial creations, the spiraled Guggenheim Museum in New York City. During a 70-year career that saw him celebrated, dismissed, then exalted anew, he was responsible for more than 800 buildings, from the dazzling house called Fallingwater at Bear Run in Pennsylvania to a traffic-stopping gas station in Cloquet, Minn. Though he was married three times and had seven children, he said it was the buildings that gave him “the father feeling.” The woman who was the great passion of his life—not one of his wives, by the way—was brutally murdered in 1914, causing Wright an anguish he overcame through work and more work. The camera examines his buildings with loving care, but even those who lack an eye for architecture will be enthralled by the story of a man who was, as one associate remembers, “200 percent alive.”

Bottom Line: Well-built biography

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