Saturday, 14 March 2015

To be or not to be ..... too long

National Gallery
This year's Borderlines has featured several longer than usual films, and having a bad back made me wary of committing to 3 hours in a cinema seat to see them.  However, I did brave National Gallery because I love galleries.  I don't know that much about art - my background is media and politics - but I love spending time in them, and 3 hours with Fred Wiseman's documentary team turns out to be not too long.

You look at pictures, you look at people looking at pictures (surprisingly interesting), you look at people restoring pictures, and curators illuminating the history and context of artists. There is no commentary - no voice telling you what to think/how to make sense of it.  You have to do the work yourself and it rewards you with a fascinating experience and lots of quietly subversive questions.

The first one emerges - as a framing question for whole film.  It comes from a meeting between the Director and his Marketing Manager, who is trying to persuade him that the Gallery does not know enough about us - the visitors.  Who is it all for, this extraordinary collection of art and expertise?  What is it for?  From the school children to the rich patrons, and all those in between – is it working for them?  Who is paying for it all?

I was reminded of a month spent filming in the Hermitage Museum in, what was then, Lenningrad in 1979, and the parties of soldiers, nuns, students, workers, teachers, pensioners, children passing through every day – a very different (and long since forgotten) way of using their national art collection.

National Gallery
The National Gallery slowly reveals itself to the cameras and watching the film is like spending several days there, with privileged access.  I learnt so much about the artists, the pictures, the process of restoration, which itself is subject to great changes in fashion.  Since TV discovered Factual Reality very few documentaries are made with no commentary.  Savour it – it may not come back into fashion – the desire to involve the audience in creating the meaning – like good art perhaps.   National Gallery does it masterfully.

Maybe it is just a trifle long though…….. 
Jane Jackson, 
Borderlines Chair

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