Thursday, December 5, 2013

Museum Hours 2012 (Jem Cohen)

A guard at an Austrian museum befriends a visiting Canadian. The film is a reverie shifting between the exhibits, particularly the Breughal paintings, and the mundane sights of a modern city, drawing a connection between the two. The boisterous, merry, indifferent, cruel crowds of Breughal are the same in modern bottles, as are the dark birds hovering in the sky, searching for meat. The trams and metros circulate endlessly. Those thick lipped country bumpkins are the same as the Viennese urban bumpkins. Yet there is a difference: Breugal has a vision, and these brutish dancing  rustics are close to the elemental heart of things, the grimness of life and death, unlike our own cushioned, drained, bored, denatured times. In the Calvary painting, for example, Christ is a dimunitive, hardly distinguishable among the work a day festive surroundings. Rather than demeaning Christ, there is a feeling of exaltation and adoration for all that exists, even the broken egg shells that litter other pictures. The shell shown in the film is interesting: a careful star like opening on the crown, as though someone sucked a raw egg in a hurry. The quiet uplifting film concludes as the waves on the ECG display connected to the visitor's cousin, who has been in coma and is the reason for her visit, die down. The sublime is in the beholder's eye, or a camera lens. Will need to be seen again with better subtitles.

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The Mill and the Cross

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