National Gallery

A unique and privileged look at London’s venerable art museum

Frederick Wiseman, who’s been making documentaries for 47 years in his own, distinctive style, now turns his talents to giving us a unique and privileged look at the venerable title museum in London’s Trafalgar Square. During this three-hour, ambling yet focused visit (long for a movie, yes, but about the right time to spend in a museum) we briefly audit several lectures by the Gallery’s knowledgeable docents on a certain picture or artist.

This alone would be worth the price of admission, but there’s much more going on here. From the first frame, Wiseman immerses us in a mosaic of the place’s daily goings-on: a board meeting discussing strategy and image, carpenters creating a space for a major new exhibit, lighting experts taking into account conditions where and when a painting was created, and, particularly fascinating, the work being done in the restoration/conservation labs.

All this is done with no talking heads, explanatory text, voiceovers or even title cards. No contextualization at all, in fact. While this may seem casual, it is anything but, and it has the desired effect of making you pay closer attention, making the film more rewarding. I learned stuff. Japanese title: National Gallery Eikoku no Shihou. (181 min)