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The National Gallery in London is one of the great museums of the world with 2400 paintings from the 13th to the end of the 19th century. Almost every human experience is represented in one or the other of the paintings. The sequences of the film show the public in various galleries; the education programs, and the scholars, scientists and curators, studying, restoring and planning the exhibitions. The relation between painting and storytelling is explored.Written by
National Gallery (2014) was directed by Frederick Wiseman. Wiseman is also listed as writer, co-producer, and editor. Although this is obviously very much a Wiseman film, Wiseman himself never appears in it.
This is typical of Wiseman. He finds ways to go where no other cinematographer could go, and he films what he sees. Moreover, there's never a hint that people are aware of the camera's presence, and there's no voice-over. What he sees is what you get. There's no explanations and no talking heads.
Because National Gallery is about a major art gallery, this film doesn't have the sizzle and pop that occur in some of Wiseman's other documentaries. For example, Astoria (2000) is about a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Queens, NY. Naturally it's more lively and inherently more interesting than National Gallery.
However, Wiseman is a great director, and he makes a relatively quiet art gallery a place where we see quiet internal struggles, and some great discussions of the paintings themselves, and the technical aspect of restoring paintings and even of making frames.
I was very interested in the board room scenes. It became clear to me that there was a subsurface struggle between the director and most of his staff. The staff wanted to make the museum more user-friendly. For example, the U.S. National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum in NYC are user-friendly. People from all the strata of society feel comfortable there. From context, that isn't so at the National Gallery.
The staff would like to change that, but it becomes apparent that the director is looking for middle- and upper-class attendance. If Bill Rugby doesn't feel at home at the museum, the director doesn't really care.
Nobody on the staff wants to confront him directly, so they keep agreeing with him, and then saying, "Yes, but . . . " He ignores these oblique suggestions, and he prevails.
The movie is three hours long, and there are many segments. Some segments worked really well, but some of the segments didn't work for me at all. For example, there's a special program at the gallery for visually impaired people. A lecturer has a work of art, and describes it in terms of lines and angles. The visually impaired people are supposed to "see" the painting in this way. It didn't look like any of them could, indeed, visualize the painting. And, unfortunately, this scene went on and on. It's a three-hour movie, so Wiseman could allow this scene to go on and on, but it wasn't enjoyable for me.
This isn't a movie that you should watch for excitement and revelation. On the other hand, if you love art, and art museums, it's the movie for you.
We saw National Gallery on DVD. It worked very well on the small screen.
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