The Great Museum
Directed by Johannes Holzhausen
This feature documentary portrays one of the most important museums in the world, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. It presents a unique look behind the scenes of this fascinating institution and encounters a number of charismatic protagonists and their working fields unfolding the museum’s special world – as an art institution as well a vehicle for state representation.
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★★★½ review by Slappy McGee on Letterboxd
Film #64 in MY YEAR OF MUBI
An absolutely STUNNINGLY beautifully filmed documentary. It shows us the true beauty and majesty of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Some brilliantly framed shots that truly highlight the wonders of this glorious museum. Great photography.
There are also some wonderfully conceived tracking shots that take us on a journey through the halls of the museum and show us the expansiveness of this place. Kind of breathtaking.
The doc itself sort of frames itself as the old retiring (one guy quite literally) and the new being ushered in, but with a sense of reverence for the old. Kind of like a restoring of a piece of art - which they show several instances of throughout the film. It's a very good working metaphor that is highlighted constantly in the film.
It's kind of fascinating to see the inner workings of a public/state museum. From the budget meetings, to the bidding for new pieces, to the donors bringing work in, to the set up of new exhibits, down to in-depth discussions about the NEW FONT used for the title of the museum in all the publicity. Kind of a cool and unique look behind the curtain (or glass case, as it were).
I actually enjoyed watching this more than I do visiting most museums. Heh.
★★★★ review by Adam G on Letterboxd
Captured over a period of more than two years and constructed in the direct cinema style (with no off-screen commentary or interviews, no background music and no scripted dialogue whatsoever), director Johannes Holzhausen’s utterly engrossing new fly-on-the-wall documentary offers viewers a fascinating and exclusive behind the scenes glimpse at one of the world’s foremost cultural institutions, Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Attentive and observant in its composition (frequently honing in the most seemingly insignificant of tasks), shot with great cinematic ambition and precision, and predominantly focusing on the day to day work of a passionate and highly devoted staff, each of whom work tirelessly to ensure and maintain the incomparable levels of detail and quality expected, Holzhausen’s film proves a work of deep reflection, poignancy and patient observation, and a more than fitting paean to its majestic subject.
Over the course of the 90-minutes we spend immersed in this captivating cultural world, we play witness to many of the various minutiae and machinations that keep the multitudinous internal cogs and gears turning. From meticulous restoration processes (including the search for destructive beetles on the surface of painting and the study of a Reubens sketch that appears to have been painted over years previously) and heated boardroom discussions (on everything from budgetary concerns, national identity and the specific fonts used on banner images), to the work of the cleaning staff, guest services team, conservationists, art historians and financial team, no subject or micro-drama appears too negligible to escape the camera’s profound and observant gaze.
Having graduated from the University of Vienna with a degree in art history, Holzhausen is the perfect candidate to helm such a piece. His clear sense of passion (combined with a feeling of privilege, respect and a multi-layered understanding of the various processes explored on screen) resonates deeply throughout, and there is a distinct relationship of trust conveyed with the eclectic members of the creative team featured.
I’m yet to see master documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s latest opus, the 180-minute, National Gallery, however if previous festival reviews are to be believed then I can’t image it will make anything less than the perfect companion piece to Holzhausen’s superb The Great Museum.
★★★½ review by Ariel Schudson on Letterboxd
Great film for archivey types or people who are interested in the inner workings of museums. It's really a great film and very unusual but it is certainly for a niche audience, I think. I loved it though. GORGEOUS!!
★★★½ review by Romain Mereau on Letterboxd
There's something so pleasurable about watching the quiet, stuffy, meticulous grace of museum staff at work. Giving us a grand tour of the Kunsthistorisches Art History Museum in Vienna, The Great Museum is a delicately balanced look at the internal machinations of this illustrious institution. Watching these incredible works of art being cleaned, restored and moved about is a great reminder of the absurd value we place on these fragile, physical objects.
It only takes that echoing reverential hush particular to museums, and a gallery of carefully hung paintings to remind you why they're so special.
★★★½ review by kylegarvey on Letterboxd
Oh, Vienna museum, go! Cohen's 2012 MUSEUM HOURS was deep into abstraction, and Holzhausen's 2014 GREAT MUSEUM is deep into the concrete. One's dumpy and ponderous and blegh (as a fiction film), and one is charming (as a hands-off doc). Which is which?
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