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The Great Museum – Movie Review

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The Great Museum– Review by Frank L.

Directed by Johannes Holzhausen

Writers: Johannes Holzhausen (concept), Constantin Wulff (concept)

The Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna is one of the great museums of the world. It is a continuing manifestation of the power, majesty and sophistication of the Hapsburg empire long after its collapse in 1918. Situate on the Ring, it is a great confection of a building imposing in its scale. But it is its contents that are jaw dropping in their magnificence.

Holzhausen was given access to the great institution during 2012 and into 2013 as the Kunstkammer rooms were undergoing a complete revamp. After the initial overview of the city gradually focussing from the air on the edifice of the Museum, Holzhausen has a series of views of various employees painstakingly sweeping the floor, dusting objects, polishing the glass of display cabinets, removing generations of wall paper from the walls and then rather shockingly a man in builder’s overalls carrying a bag of tools and a pick axe striding across the parquet floor of one of the great rooms, dropping the bag of tools, raising the pick axe and driving it down into the parquet floor with considerable force. The rooms which constitute the Kunstkammer were undergoing a complete overhaul stripping them back to their bare walls and floor.

This major upheaval in the operation of the museum created a great opportunity to observe the inner workings of the museum in all its multifarious complexity. Holzhausen was able to record the meticulous manner in which the highly skilled staff approach their work on a daily basis. The skill with which they handle each of the treasures entrusted to their care is a joy to behold.

Management meetings are not usually of much interest to outsiders but being a fly on the wall enables the viewer to understand the various historical, cultural and marketing needs which have to be held in balance in the display of the artefacts. The attention to detail is mind blowing. While there are interviews there is fortunately no voiceovers and no music. The camera does the work of revealing the inner workings of the institution.

There is perhaps too much footage of the relationship of the museum to the Republic of Austria and its dignitaries but this is a small gripe. There is a German compound noun which sums up this fine documentary- Sehenswert-worth seeing. Go and enjoy.

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