National Gallery

This is a documentary about the backstage of London’s National Gallery. National Gallery is American documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s 43rd film. 84 years old Wiseman likes to show the daily life of institutions. Like most of Wiseman’s films, it has no narrators and no interviews. It shows some of the different meetings taking place. Everything is discussed like accessibility, publicity and economic matters. We learn that the gallery’s recent sponsorship of a sporting event, was not as effective a strategy as they thought it would be. An early scenes has legally blind people study a painting aided by a braille copy and the help of a counselor. Restorative techniques are discussed among the staff and restorers are seen removing the old varnish from old paintings. Details such as the lighting on a painting, or one having too much shadow. But most of the film is spent with guides. Those dreadful, boring guides speak ad nauseam about every you never wanted to know on Rembrandt, Bruegel, Vermeer or Leonardo Da Vinci. The salvation comes when we see reactions from the public looking at those great masterpieces. (There is not a lot of modern art here, if any. All of the work we see are from the great masters, and are beautifully filmed.) But there are so few of those moments. We always come back to the guides. This three-hour film ends with two ballet dancers doing a pas de deux among the paintings. If Wiseman wants to say that London’s National Gallery is elitist, after three hours, we get the point.

Rémi-Serge Gratton


National Gallery


Directed by: 
Frederick Wiseman
180 min.
Rated General

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