Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman takes a peek behind the curtain of the National Gallery.
Frederick Wiseman (France/USA, TIFF Docs)
Frederick Wiseman delivers another exhaustive but incisive look at an institution with National Gallery, a fine companion piece to last year’s At Berkeley, which considered the fate of the university in an age of youth apathy and diminishing public funding. It’s surely no accident that the direct-cinema pioneer would turn to another unfashionable institution for his follow-up—namely, the art gallery—but what surprises about National Gallery is its unwavering focus on how such cultural bastions engage with vastly different audiences.
For such a languidly paced film, National Gallery is riveting stuff, comprising smart lectures from gallery experts that pitch Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, and what have you to spectators as diverse as schoolchildren, academics, and deep-pocketed patrons. Wiseman’s institutional portraits tend to rise and fall on the strength of the bureaucratic figures who fill their hallowed halls. Here, though, there’s a sly intelligence behind the doc’s design, with the experts’ commentary on how paintings tell stories all at once, without the leisure of time, playfully informing our own awareness that what we’re watching is cinema.