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TIFF 2014 Review: National Gallery

For National Gallery Frederick Wiseman takes his usual strict observational approach. Therein lies much of the problem with this documentary. We are left with a sprawling nearly three hour long film that is almost as inaccessible to the masses as the great gallery itself.

Some of the gallery speakers have interesting things to say about the artwork but for the most part they come across as pompous and tend to drone on and on about one or two points. If you were witnessing this in person you would probably start to feel your eyelids droop – watching it on screen only intensifies this.

The things that should be interesting – like watching the conservators at work are about as exciting as watching varnish dry (they work on layers of varnish so that future generations have the option of undoing their work).

There are some nice moments of people watching in National Gallery where the visitors and gallery staff are framed in such a way that they too become as intriguing as the paintings that surround them. For example a kerchiefed old woman gazing in awe and a gallery porter with striking red hair staring off to the side.

Diversity (save for some of the tourists and the school children) is not something that the gallery is known for and the film – whether intentional or not – really does a good job of emphasizing this. Watching the director of the gallery, Nicholas Penny, whinge about the charity Sport Relief’s request to use the gallery’s façade for a projection, is an intriguing window into the seldom seen inner politics of running a national institution.

[star v=25]