National Gallery

One Show Only!

One Show Only! “It is such a gift that Frederick Wiseman, who is edging toward 85, continues to let his curiosity and his craft fill his days and our theaters. In his new film, National Gallery, the legendary documentarian takes on London's famed museum as if it were a living, breathing organism of unexpected complexity.

“Wiseman's approach is intriguing in the way that he makes his very nonobtrusive observing so salient and intimate. It is especially appropriate in this case, since a museum by its very nature is an institution designed for looking, its main entertainment to be found in quiet observation.

“National Gallery is a balance between the art and the observer. It captures all sorts of people in mostly silent, at times sacred, contemplation. It feels as if you can see the connections being made, art unearthing emotion right in front of you. The faces are so unguarded as the story different painters try to express pulls them in. And then they move on.

“As Wiseman is wont to do, he gets into institutional politics. The boardroom worries about budget shortfalls. The debate over giving the public a stronger voice. How the museum, one that specializes in masterworks from the past, can remain relevant today.

“And mechanics are revealed. The meticulous artistry required for restorations. The fretting over a lighting issue with the museum's massive Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. The after-hours maintenance of polishing the floors.

“Wiseman uses the art, and docent discussions of it, to put the artists and their paintings in perspective. It also becomes the key narrative device for stitching a great many ideas together.

“At times, the filmmaker's looking at looking, his contemplation of observation juxtaposed with the examination of what the artist intended, feels very meta. As if Wiseman could be parsing his own medium. The issues raised about art, artist and artifice would be as relevant if he'd flipped the camera around on his crew and made documentarians the subject.

“The film takes a meandering pace that reflects a museum visit. In a time when so many documentary filmmakers take on advocacy roles, "National Gallery" represents the heart of what Wiseman does best — step back and let the place and its people lead the story.” - LA Times


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