National Gallery | Chicago Reader
National Gallery

National Gallery

National Gallery

Revered documentary maker Frederick Wiseman trains his lens on the title art museum in London, sticking to his famously ascetic formula (no narration, no score, no graphics, no talking heads) but delivering one of his driest, least illuminating works. The early scenes promise a strongly focused inquiry on the challenge of preserving the museum's integrity while making it accessible to as many people as possible; a scene in which gallery director Nicholas Penny and a marketing consultant chew on this very question is followed by a class for the blind (who run their fingers across relief prints of an impressionistic painting) and a group of small children whose tour guide stresses the "amazing stories" to be found in many canvases. This focus gradually dissipates, however, and after the customary middle section in which Wiseman begins going behind the scenes (showing the work of a frame carver, restoration technicians, building workmen, etc), the movie settles into a series of docent lectures. An extravagant climax with two ballet dancers whirling around a gallery seems like a last-ditch attempt to liven up what has begun as a study of the institution but wound down into a proxy visit.

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