on 4 January 2014
This review contains a spoiler.
I started 'Museum Hours' pretty unengaged and finished it in tears without really understanding how I can moved from point A to B. For a conventional narrative film, it has some pretty strange, associative editing. The film captures authentically awkward/ human performances by Mary Margaret O'Hara and Bobby Sommer, which slowly win you over just through decency alone, rather than any particular magnetism or charm. You get to see the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum intimately, from different viewpoints and are privileged to experience a very engaging lecture on Brueghel. I found it life-infused and infusing. If you like museums and quiet contemplation, then I'd sincerely recommend this film.
Museum Hours is a film documentary with a fictive narrative set in Vienna,the city and the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum.Johann(Bobby Sommer) a guard,encounters Anne(Mary Margeret O'Hara),a foreign visitor called to Austria because of the poor health of a cousin,who is in hospital with a coma.These two characters,are loosely based on their real lives,one a singer getting some work in Canada through the support of friends,the other having been a manager in the punk music business.The film just hangs together on the fragile narrative,as Anne asks for help finding the hospital from the museum guard,she doesn't speak German,and he also shows her around Vienna to parts he hasn't seen in a long time,the less touristy parts.They strike up a friendship useful to them both.He is gay but his lover has deceased,she is lonely,poor and a long way from home.They cheer each other up and keep each other amused. He gives her a free pass to the Museum,so she can come whenever she wants and look at the art works,from the Egyptians,Greeks and Romans,via Cranach and Breughel up to the Dutch and Renaisance painters.They both go to the hospital.
The film is shot on 16 mm and digital(interiors) and has a palette of dark hues and autumnal and winter tones.I found the film hard to get into at 1st,having to watch it at least 3 times to let it grow on me.What I found difficult is that the film has no real action,drama or plot elements to hook you or draw you in.There are many darkened scenes hard to make out and the sound is poor,the articulation fuzzy.When characters speak their faces are often in the dark or they're shot from the side so you can't even see their lips or faces.There is little animation(they being strangers to each other),yet they are just plausible enough to believe in.They are also both non-actors.There are no subtitles (apart from when he speaks German,optional).
Having said that I liked the idea of the Art Museum as being a special space where the public can view works of art free of considerations of price (apart from the price of entry),where the viewer's gaze transports them to this other world,set free from considerations of time and cost,reaping the harvest of value,history and beauty.The central art works under consideration are Breugel's.The lecturer offers her own overview:the focus of his paintings was not the ostensible subject.He painted all of humanity,the `hallucination of the real',elements from allegory and folklore.He even disguised himself as a peasant to be able to paint their lives.She refers to Auden's description of the Fall of Icarus,how Breugel depicts the event,the world going on as if nothing has happened. But the realistic observation of Bruegel was more at liberty when, in his last period, he frankly took the life about him as his subject, for it had been that which interested him chiefly even when depicting sacred themes.He also had a vast conception of nature,new to his time.The film connects the classical art and the streets,what's inside and what's outside the museum.
Somewhere towards the end Johann remarks "One begins to wonder what the real subject is"while describing an old woman walking up a path.In another scene Anne looking at a painting of a late Rembrandt says,"there doesn't seem much there,as if it came from nothing and will go back to nothing.There's a lot of detail in thedarkness."Far be it for me to use these quotes to undermine the film's intent,but they are telling.What was especially good was the way the film shot images outside the museum which matches imagery of the paintings of Breugel,like birds in the trees,on the ground or in flight,or images of detritus,cans,egg-shells,gloves.The inspiration for the film is John Berger's famous Ways of Seeing, expressing gratitude to him in the end -credits.Johann watches the viewers studying the works of art,the babies, the schoolkids,bored or dallying to see the erotic work or scenes of cut off heads.In another scene he slyly has the adult onlookers become as naked as the painted nudes they look upon.
The 2 songs Margaret O'Hara sings are her 1st original compositions since 2000.Cohen `s film is rooted in photography and emphasises anonymity.We also get Breughel's `snapshots' of lived experience.The voiceover comes from Johann watching the film himself.We get a sense of the transcience of things,everything seen in relation to each other,with no sense of hierarchy and separation.Cohen's interest is in themarginal,found and outsider art.He locates in a café frequented by immigrants,with all their posters,photos framed on a wall,toilet signs, shows a democratic gaze.As we depart the museum,shots of cranes,a little old lady walking away,images of junk shop wares, the hangers left in Anne's ward-drobe as she leaves city and Johann behind,the procession of images glides past and disappears.Friendship has altered Anne's way of looking.The film has found a way to connect the past and present with transcient images.
on 10 March 2014
This film did disappoint me after reading some of the good reviews on here for it. I must be missing what these other reviewers could see. I was prepared that nothing much, as far as a storyline was concerned, would happen. I knew it wasn’t going to be that type of film. But if that’s the case, it has to make up for that in other ways. Perhaps make you think, or see the world in a different way. But it didn’t do this either. It just plodded on. It wasn’t a complete waste of an hour or two of my life, because seeing some of the beautiful art and artifacts at Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum brought back memories of our visit a few years ago and the Brueghel lecture and attention was interesting, but I was hoping for so much more from this film.