Following a successful two-week run at the Northwest Film Forum late last year, SIFF is bringing Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, National Gallery back for one Monday night this week as part of their Recent Raves series. At about three hours long, Gallery is only a medium length Wiseman film, a look at the venerable British art gallery, the paintings within it, the people that run it and the public that visits it. The 85 year old filmmaker is probably more well-known for his examinations of public institutions in films like Welfare (1975), Titicut Follies (1967), At Berkeley (2013) or High School (1968, followed by a sequel in 1994), but he’s also one of cinema’s great chroniclers of art as work. His dance films (Ballet, 1995; La danse, 2009; and Crazy Horse, 2011) are astounding, and, along with 2010’s Boxing Gym, form with National Gallery as expansive a look at the business, craft and sheer effort that goes into the presentation of art to an audience. Like those other films, Gallery is divided into a series of segments highlighting different aspects of the institution: the tour guides explaining a work or an artist; the craftsmen and women building frames, gallery spaces, designing and testing lighting; restorers at work fixing paintings damaged by time; and administrators debating the best ways to persevere the museums brand and grow its audience. The segments are broken up by shorter series of shots, much like the pillow shots of a Yasujiro Ozu film, where we get to look at the paintings and, as interestingly perhaps, the faces of the people as they look at the paintings. 19th Century landscape painter JMW Turner, himself the subject of a fine biopic directed by Mike Leigh starring Timothy Spall, is one of the featured artists. That film, Mr. Turner, is currently playing at the Sundance Cinemas. The pair would make for an excellent, if lengthy, cross-town double feature.
National Gallery plays at the Grand Cinema on Tuesday, March 3rd.