Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Museum Hours": A museum guard befriends a visitor with a dying relatiive; where are the real stories?

Jem Cohen’s little film “Museum Hours” may seem a bit gratuitous in the way it looks at storytelling. It’s true, a lot of the paintings in Vienna’s Art History Museum (Kunsthistoriches) tell stories, and paint visions of what daily life would have been like for us had we been born a few hundred years ago. 

The human side today is simple, but that’s often how it is.  Art museum security guard Johann (Bobby Sommer) can tell stories about the pictures, and explain how museums didn’t come into being until the French Revolution, and this one isn’t “free” to visit (sorry, Reid! – but there’s even a simple “free fish” sculpture).  Then Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) appears, having come from Montreal to look after her cousin, in a coma in a hospital.  Her name and contact had been found in her cousin’s effects.  She stays all winter, any the couple keep each other company.  Neither seems to have a lot ambition in the usual sense.  Bobby has worked in the music and then carpentry businesses, but never acted as a creator himself.  Bobby joins Anne in spending hours beside Anne’s cousin’s beside, telling her stories about the paintings as she remains unconscious.

There is some attention to paintings with nudity, and even a brief visit of guests allowed to be naked, without “imagination”.  They’re rather unremarkable.

One of the most interesting parts of the film is the various sequence of outdoor walks in Vienna, often in fog, then snow (as the entire winter progresses into early spring), often more drab than one would expect.

Museums often seek volunteers, who might have to don uniforms.  For example, the National Academy of Sciences has a museum in Washington DC, and a guide approached me when I visited it last December. Yet volunteering for such a place requires a lot of bureaucracy.  Who wants to take orders that way?

The idea that art simulates life is interesting. When I worked for the Navy Department (in the Navy Yard) back in 1972, a friend and co-worker wrote on essay on "art" and used fog (as in this movie) as a metaphor.
I saw that film at a late afternoon show at the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax, VA. There was a fair crowd for a weekday.
The film is distributed by Cinema Guild, and I don’t know if the production company of “Little Magnet” has anything to do with Magnolia Pictures.
 The official site is here


This is a quiet film, running about 110 minutes.  Bobby’s own narration in in German with subtitles, but the conversations with Anne are in English. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Vienna tram in winter. 

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