In 2 days I’ve seen 2 films by directors with the same sounding name. Inside Llewyn Davis was directed by the Coen brothers. We saw a sneak preview at the Block Cinema in Evanston Thursday night for FREE. Crazy.
Then the next night we caught Museum Hours (by the director Jem Cohen) also at the Block. The same student was there taking tickets as the night before. I asked him how he’d liked Inside Llewyn Davis and he answered: bleak. I think I could agree with that assessment.
Museum Hours was a visual masterpiece. Like most memorable art, it was a revelation of the ordinary. Whitmanesque.
Cities of “hurrying, feverish electrical crowds.” “Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than the present.” (Democratic Vistas, 1871)
Just as Whitman represented ordinary American life pre-20th C, this film displays the hollowness of the post 20th C. Ugly, urban landscapes beneath winterish bleach skies devoid of a sun. A film or haze settles over the city of Vienna—and over its population. Everything seems less bright. There is trash, hunchbacked elderly people attempting to cross traffic-choked streets. Worse yet the billboards—huge advertisements that stand out or blend in depending upon the scene.
It is a movie about seeing, being, dwelling. It is part Zen and part poetry.
When a Vienna museum guard befriends an enigmatic visitor, the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum becomes a mysterious crossroads which sparks explorations of their lives, the city, and the ways artworks reflect and shape the world.
The guard learns to view his surroundings with new eyes. He takes her to places tourists don’t go, free places, spots where he has felt an emotional connection. So goes their relationship. Each has their own way of looking and the connection is in how they share their random observations—in the midst of death and decay.
Watching them on screen as they traverse the bleak city is a sublime joy. The small things, the ordinary begins to take on the inner luminosity of an oil painting. The dialogue particularly shines. It is spontaneous with a feeling of authenticity. Just as the Bruegel paintings of medieval peasant life transform before our eyes into everyday reality, we begin to see the bigger picture. Of how this life we live can at once be a poem and a masterpiece—if only we see it with renewed eyes or through the eyes of another.
The movie unlocks a treasury of linked images, connections between art and the art of life, between the real and unreal, the senses and sensual aesthetic. One is truly amazed that unbeknownst to them they are living a timelessness as it were or animated still life.
On another note I urge you as the holiday approaches—yay! as it is already upon some of us—to reach out to outsiders, aliens, and strangers. Welcome the exchange student who needs a place to stay when the campus dorm closes down for winter break. The homeless under the bridge. The veteran of wars and elderly. Seeing the world through other eyes, awakens us, opens our eyes. Much like how Museum Hours did for me.
I’ll next continue this blog—reporting on MORE of the ordinary by a review of a new coffee table-size book of photographs taken in Uptown, Chicago in the late to mid 70s.