Review: ‘The Gamble House’

By Brandon Kratkoczki

I had to wait in the rush line to get my Gamble House ticket, which means that they had sold out the screening and were getting together a second theater so that more audiences would be able to see it. I was intrigued: everyone was really pooping his or her pants about this documentary about old-school architecture, huh? This screening is gonna be the party of the year! I thought. Yeah! Get a Pennywise cocktail from the AMC bar for 13 dollars, because it’s about to get lit! I sprinted into the theater in anticipation. Surely, this was going to be a cinematic event equivalent to seeing Gone With the Wind way back in the 30s, when everything onscreen was as brand new and huge as the movies can get. Oh yeah baby! Here comes The Gamble House to redefine the art form! I took my seat amongst an audience of the extremely elderly (that’s how you know a movie’s gonna be good), put on my 3D glasses, and got my scratch-and-sniff card ready, because it was about to get ludicrous.  

That is what I would’ve dreamed about if I were allowed to take a nap in the theater during this film. The Gamble House was the only dud of the first weekend at Heartland 2017, a boring mess of a documentary that is sub-PBS in its quality and post-Nyquil in its ability to make me sleepy. I should’ve known better. I should’ve taken one look at the subject matter of this documentary and realized what garbage lay ahead. But Back to the Future brought me back in. Yes, dear readers, the festival’s program promised a history of this house, the Gamble House, which has been used in countless films and TV shows, most notably in this 1985 classic as Doc Brown’s home. I thought that learning a little something about set design or how architecture has influenced popular culture could have been neat for a film student like me.

But it isn’t even about the Gamble House.

It is about the Green Brothers, two boring men who made houses until they died broke in the early 1900s. I would’ve been kinder to this film if it were titled something, anything else. I thought that I would be able to learn about this neat house that has been such a pop culture staple in so many childhoods. But no, it was an exhaustive detailing of the Green family history. And I don’t mean just the architect brothers. We go ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE FREAKING CIVIL WAR WHERE SOME JERK WE DON’T CARE ABOUT ONCE DID SOMETHING AND EVENTUALLY LED TO THE BIRTH OF TWO BORING ARCHITECTS THAT KINDA SORTA DID INTERESTING THINGS AND WENT TO EVERY SINGLE WORLD’S FAIR THERE WAS. Sorry for getting heated, but I can’t promise it won’t happen again.

It’s not like boring subject matter can’t be interesting. I have seen some great documentaries on potentially boring subjects. Kyle Wooldridge reviewed The Chocolate Case, and that was a documentary that caught me completely off-guard. I never would’ve expected the candy business to be so gripping. But this film is constructed and told with all the conviction of the signing of an IHOP receipt. The interviews this film manages to get are with people who are informative to a fault. I felt as if I was learning too much while watching this film, and not about the core subject I was interested in when I got into the film. I just don’t know what to say. I haven’t structured this review at all before writing it. I’ve just been mumbling at my keyboard for 20 minutes. Because you know what? That’s what this documentary deserves. It deserves my exhausted ramblings after a long day of classes.

You’ll notice that I’ve given this film a 1.5 out of 5 at the bottom of this review. I bet you’re wondering why I gave it that half-point when I could’ve given it the 1/5 death sentence that I slapped onto The Book of Love, another confused, boring rice cake of a film. You wanna know why I’m giving it this half-point? Because I don’t want it to be remembered in the collection of films we’ve given 1s to. If I ever become famous, they’re gonna be looking through all of my undergraduate work and wondering where my inspiration came from, what made me tick. They will not find this film in the collection of things I’ve given the lowest rating possible, and it will not be published in any listicles or essays. No, I want the public to do this film what I’ve done to it: let it slip in one ear, out the other. I want this film to be a faint scent on the breeze, carried from a bog 20 miles away. I want this film to be put on VHS and stored in the very back corner of every high school AV room, never to be grabbed. I want the director of this film to forget in an interview one day that he even made it. I’m a pretty simple guy, and I know what I like and dislike. But some things just conjure up anger and bile inside my gut. This boring, lifeless, soggy, confused, dull, monotonous, flat, characterless, rejected PBS special of a film deserves no place in film history. It is a non-product. It is a broken fidget spinner, or a Silly Bandz bracelet long snapped in half. Let’s just forget it for our sake.

 Rating: 1.5/5