Sunday, 12 October 2014


One can detect the artist's fingerprint very clearly in Frederick Wiseman's films. In the selections he makes, the footage he retains in the editing process he personally oversees, one senses the precise intention of Wiseman as an interlocutor with his audience. At times, in National Gallery, he comes across more as a lecturer, presenting material whose meaning is only discernible upon unreasonably close inspection. But the connection between Wiseman and his subject has rarely, if ever, been so close as it is in National Gallery. The film is like a self-reflexive essay on art, interpreting itself as a form of storytelling akin to the paintings he here profiles in its essence, though separate from them in its techniques. The point is made early, and carried through the film - that of what it means to view art, to perceive art, to interpret art. And, in these gargantuan accounts he designs, in their grand intimacy, he creates documents both of art and of life, a feature that draws National Gallery into the past. Where it meets the present is in its theory on the purpose of restoration, as creation, and as part of the legacy of art - unlike da Vinci's pupils, there is an enduring legacy in Wiseman's work, evident in his careful craft, in that editing process in which he acts as artist, restorer and curator altogether. His collection, on this occasion, he ventures into repetition, causing the film to drag unnecessarily as it ought to skip sprightly toward its close; the spontaneity and natural fascination of the variety in the film's earlier scenes is eventually drained. A couple of last-minute diversions suddenly resurrect the memory of Wiseman's own interest in poetry and dance, abruptly finishing National Gallery on a note of appropriate inspiration.