An adrenaline-filled chase sequence in the movie The International takes Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) to New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Ascending the ramp, he looks at films projected on the walls and onto a chandelier of glass panels dangling from the museum’s skylight.
But that break in the action is short-lived. Agents from the International Bank of Business and Credit suddenly appear on nearly every floor. They shoot at Salinger, riddling the museum with bullet holes. Salinger fires back, eventually targeting the skylight. The chandelier shatters, the skylight crashes down, and rain pours into the museum.
The International, out from Columbia Pictures on the 13th of this month, follows Salinger and Manhattan assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) to New York, Istanbul, Milan, and Berlin as they try to uncover the inner workings of a corrupt international bank. Directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), the film was shot mostly on location, but logistics and scheduling conflicts left the production team in need of, well, a Guggenheim.
Tykwer filmed a few exterior and establishing shots at the museum itself, but most of the shoot-out was captured in a scale replica of the interior, built in Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, Germany. While movies have been shot at the Guggenheim before—Men in Black (1997), Hamlet (2000), and Small Time Crooks (2000) among them—this marks the first time the building has been re-created as a set.
Reconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece was no small feat. The Guggenheim provided production designer Uli Hanisch with blueprints and a 3-D laser model of the building, and the filmmakers paid the museum to use its copyrighted image. Preparations took six weeks, and construction took ten. By Hanisch’s estimate, it cost approximately $1.6 million to build the replica.
Then came the question of the art. Hanisch and Tykwer opted for a video-art exhibition to avoid the logistical (and insurance-related) obstacles involved in choreographing a shoot-out around paintings and sculptures. They hired Berlin-based artist Julian Rosefeldt to install a retrospective of his films in the faux museum and then commissioned him to create a new film installation to hang from the skylight.
Rosefeldt’s commission, The Opening, pays homage to the Guggenheim’s spiral structure. He filmed a group of art-world types at a gallery opening, which tranforms into a swirling fun-house ride. The Opening, the glass chandelier onto which it is projected, and the skylight itself were all digitally incorporated into the film. Rosefeldt reserves the right to exhibit The Opening after The International’s release, as well as a series of photographs he took of the set—its ramps “leading to nowhere” and other visual paradoxes.
“My dream was to shoot my own film project in there before they destroyed the set,” Rosefeldt says with a laugh. “It would have been about a megalomaniac artist who said, ‘I’ll never get to show my work at any museum in the world, so I’ll build my own Guggenheim!’”