The Great Museum (Kino Lorber, NR)

The Great MuseumIt would be easy to turn a museum tour into a solemn occasion, but Holzhausen maintains his sense of humor.

 

 

 

 

The Great Museum 500

I’m a museum nerd. When I visit a new city, if there’s a museum in town, I will be sure to visit it. And not just to see the exhibits—I’m also fascinated by the institution of the museum and the way museums function in the modern world. My tastes are pretty catholic as well—I love art museums, but have spent many hours at museums devoted to subjects like natural history and computers as well. Final confession—I like to hang out at museums, even if I’m just writing in my journal or reading a book. What more pleasant surroundings could one find, after all, for a journey into either one’s own mind, or the writings of another person?

A documentary like The Great Museum, which takes you behind the scenes at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, is custom-made for someone like me, although people with less interest in the museum enterprise may find it to be slow going. You see a lot of art and other precious objects over the course of the film, but the main emphasis is on the largely unseen work that goes into keeping a museum going. That includes both business matters (setting a budget and working within it, deciding how to position the museum among other cultural organizations when requesting government funds) as well as questions of art (hanging paintings, caring for and restoring artworks, planning exhibitions).

Director Johannes Holzhausen enjoyed extraordinary access to the staff and work areas of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, giving the viewer a chance to see parts of the museum normally off limits to the public. At the same time, the magnificence of the building and the collections it houses are evident in even the passing glances offered in this film by cinematographers Attila Boa and Joerg Burger. And it’s quite a sight to see: founded in 1891 by Emperor Franz Joseph, the Kunsthistorisches Museum houses primarily collections owned by the Hapsburgs, including a number of Old Master paintings as well as collections of arms and armour and antiquities from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome.

It would be easy to turn a museum tour into a solemn occasion, but Holzhausen maintains his sense of humor. Some of the objects on display are simply bizarre (my favorite is the taxidermied fencing frogs), the restoration work produces the kind of exasperating moments you might experience on any skilled job (one gentleman, working on a mechanical ship that plays music and fires cannons, swears at it in frustration), and budgeting meetings also produce the kind of thinly veiled competition for resources characteristic of many organizations. Then there’s the fellow riding his scooter over the parquet floor—as with the film’s other subjects, we don’t know who he is or what he is doing, so he simply becomes one more player in the ensemble cast, so to speak, of this film.

The image quality and sound on the DVD are both superb and do full justice to the artworks and the institution that are featured. Extras on the disc include six deleted scenes (20 min. total), an interview with the director (18 min.), and the film’s trailer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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