National Gallery Screen 29 articles

National Gallery

2014

National Gallery Poster
  • A running theme—as one tour guide puts it—is the connection between "representation and the thing itself." Late in the film, a lecturer notes that each time you revisit a particular Vermeer, it's going to look slightly different. That's a concept "National Gallery" ponders not just in theme but in form.

  • ...It appears Wiseman is showing that it’s not the works of art which are varied so much as the voices describing them. As a brief talk on Holbein’s The Ambassadors will evince, perspective can reveal very different aspects within a single work. This is both the wondrous revelation and, perhaps, the slight tragedy of National Gallery. Each work can communicate in a million different ways, so how could one institution create a unified voice for the public?

  • Set-ups shift from simple medium shots of the artwork to exacting close-ups, from hushed confines to the sometimes bustling exteriors—some of Wiseman’s framings of the building’s interior architecture are even reminiscent of the work of structuralist filmmaker Heinz Emigholz in their imposing breadth and incremental detail. National Gallery, then, is less lecture (a charge against some of Wiseman’s recent work) and more discussion, among a multitude of voices both past and present.

  • Unlike Wiseman’s greatest films, National Gallery never quite finds an overarching theme. There’s a fair amount of material regarding the art/commerce divide, but many scenes have no bearing whatsoever on that subject, and the film generally lacks urgency... [But] when it comes to a towering master like Wiseman, however, even the minor efforts are pretty major.

  • Wiseman burrows deep into this institution, as he has with many others. There’s no overarching narrative, so while it is never dull, this film doesn’t have the dramatic tension of last year’s splendid (and even longer) “The New Rijksmuseum.” But scenes like a curator describing a Camille Pissarro painting to a group of blind art lovers are so powerfully engrossing that explanation is superfluous.

  • In effect, "National Gallery" is about the effort to cut through the essential institutional qualities of the institution—qualities without which no museum can survive—in order to approach the transcendent sublimity of the art that it contains. That approach is something of a conquest—as much for the museum's in-person spectator as for the viewer of "National Gallery."

  • One quiet but persistent theme in this film is the tension between the separateness of an artwork—its identity firmly associated with a single art form—and its connectedness and co-existence with other art forms.

  • What's most unique about NATIONAL GALLERY to this reviewer is that it's a curious blend between the controlled and oftentimes controversial institutional documentaries Wiseman is most known for (TITICUT FOLLIES and HIGH SCHOOL, among many, many others) and his more laissez-faire depictions of various cultural organizations (BALLET about the American Ballet Theatre, LA COMÉDIE-FRANÇAISE about the eponymous theatrical company, and CRAZY HORSE about the infamous Parisian cabaret, among others).

  • “One of my colleagues tells me this is a murder scene,” says one curator to her audience, of a Holbein portrait of two aristocrats with a skull at their feet. Wiseman’s film marvels that these stories and visual feats are still fresh hundreds of years after they were created.

  • ...This is among Wiseman’s densest, and best, works—one that, after a profoundly emotional start, becomes a much stranger, slippery beast...You may initially find yourself missing the emotional pull of the film’s first sections, but it’s all to an increasingly intriguing point. As the public becomes less of a focus and the inner workings of the museum take precedence, a fascinating subtext emerges about the elitist nature of the institution and, indeed, of many of the pieces in its collection.

  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, then there are at least a million things worth talking about in National Gallery, 84-year-old documentary maestro Frederick Wiseman’s exhaustive portrait of one of the world’s most venerable art institutions.

  • The outstanding thing about National Gallery is the fascination that Wiseman transmits of the scholars that study the Works, who share their passion with the audience... In this way, Wiseman allow ourselves to get caught in this new discovery of the museum, from the relation of the watcher and the describer of the gaze, and goes beyond questioning or not any machinery for institutionalizing what is and has been art for all history.

  • The correlation between the museum's paintings and history of imagemaking and storytelling and that of cinema is direct, but the film's copious range of explanations and contexts for the paintings on display—and how they are displayed and why, how they are restored and what the effect is—fully transform National Gallery into a richly contemporaneous essay on the curation, exhibition, reception, and preservation of culture in our time.

  • After a quick establishing shot of the stone lions that guard the British National Gallery, Frederick Wiseman plunges into the building itself with a rapid-fire montage of the iconic works that hang on its walls. The effect is nearly overwhelming... though it’s fair to assume this is Wiseman’s intent. The veteran documentarian of institutions paints a portrait of Britain’s greatest art gallery that has far more to do with its people than the oil paintings it houses.

  • [It's Wiseman's] most purely compelling and subtly provocative film in years... Ending the film somewhat cryptically on, of all things, a modern dance piece arranged by The Royal Ballet, Wiseman suggests his own affinities for such gaps, which, among other liberties, give the viewer the space to do his or her own interpretive heavy-lifting.

  • [Wiseman's] fascination with backstage executive deliberations is distinctive in part for being directed at the content of such deliberations, rather than their mood, outline, or form. Watching National Gallery, we are asked to care about, say, the difficulties associated with marketing a particular exhibition, or the need on the part of a curator to balance riskier shows with those whose success is virtually guaranteed.

  • Here [Wiseman is] spelunking into London’s National Gallery and coming back with a nimble celebration of our ways of looking, learning, performing, and collapsing time.

  • The museum and the cinema, two exhibition models eternally insecure about their relevance, seem increasingly to be clinging together for reassurance. The result is not only a museification of film culture, but an unprecedented openness of museums to being transcribed in film...

  • A delicate balancing act between spontaneity and structure also plays out on a formal level, with the framing, editing, and sound design all exhibiting the same leisurely precision. Grace and function flow together in how the camera perches behind a restorer removing centuries-old grime from a sea scene, switches to a detail shot of the canvas, before several hours of work are smoothly elided to show the newly glowing colors across the painting as a whole.

  • What’s truly moving about Wiseman’s film is the director’s use of portraiture to convey the museum’s efforts to draw a link between modern people and the artists and subjects who came before them. National Gallery is a movie of faces—those of visitors, upturned and searching across the flat planes of paintings, and those of subjects, noble and otherwise, who look out in their full personhood from the museum’s walls.

  • Mr. Wiseman’s touch is deft but light here, and the experience of watching “National Gallery” is pleasurable and immersive because he’s a wonderful storyteller. It is also unexpectedly moving. Because his other great theme is how art speaks to us, one he brilliantly expresses in the relay of gazes that finds us looking at museumgoers looking at portraits that look right back — at artists, art lovers and moviegoers — even as Mr. Wiseman, that sly old master, looks at all of us in turn.

  • The film closes with a short ballet choreographed to a grave quasi-liturgical string quartet. One is reminded of the sardonic anti-intellectualism of “dancing to architecture,” but this finale to National Gallery does suggest that the best way to discuss image-making is to transubstantiate it in another medium. It’s as good an argument as any: It keeps the conversation going, and that might be Wiseman’s core assessment of the museum’s purpose.

  • While plenty of experts are on hand to walk us through terrifically insightful journeys through the paintings, Wiseman’s symphonic film is structurally held together, and made cinematically vibrant, through maybe the most reaction shots ever put together in a feature film—art and thought both put on display.

  • [The film's] opening is a near-perfect encapsulation of Wiseman’s method. His camerawork is as objective, or as “objective,” as it gets... Where he editorializes, or makes a point of declining to editorialize, is in his cutting. The opening invites the viewer into the realm of the sublime, then drops the viewer into the realm of the quotidian. This juxtaposition, Wiseman suggests, is a part of what makes the Gallery a noble institution.

  • What [Wiseman]sees in National Gallery isn’t so much a new way to see. It’s the concentration and dissemination of all that seeing, the generosity of it: The montages of works in close-up or medium shots, yes, but also the way he notices the people watching or sketching or sleeping, the people queued outside in the chill or the rain as if at an Apple product launch. The film gets more done in its three hours than we would in three days.

  • Wiseman is now eighty-four, and this documentary is made with all the sympathy and sly craft that have distinguished his work over the years. It flows and shifts like water through its three hours, so smoothly that time seems to vanish. He makes us feel both one of the crowd and a privileged insider.

  • Like an early, playful experiment with continuity editing, the cuts stitch together observer and purported observee, and the loop stays open as Wiseman hopscotches back and forth from Italian Renaissance scenes and Hans Holbein’s court paintings, to students with sketchbooks and seniors with audio guides. It’s a democratic array of faces leaning in closer, shifting their weight, smiling knowingly — a potentially inexhaustible recombination of contemplator and contemplated.

  • It’s hard to be a devout worshiper of an artist like my hero Frederick Wiseman. I have seen nearly 30 of his films, so the rhythms of his edits and the way his scenes are constructed can seem almost second nature, to the point that it becomes difficult to actually experience the films he makes. But then he does something like the last few minutes of his masterful National Gallery and I completely lose my mind. Wiseman has never attempted such a narratively expressive ending before.

  • Wiseman’s prowling camera is so unemphatically observational that you can be easily and profitably distracted by a background painting or a patch of gorgeous silk wallpaper or a particularly lovely museumgoer’s face.

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