Museum Hours

Synopsis: In the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna, Johann is a security guard who finds a special quiet magic there. One day, a Canadian woman arrives to visit to the city, and the two strike up a friendship through their appreciation of art. That relationship helps put all the other goings-on at the museum and in the city in perspective, as Johann observes and participates in them in a world where art can say so much more than a casual visitor might know.
Genre: Drama
Director(s): Jem Cohen
Production: Cinema Guild
  2 wins & 9 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
107 min

Somehow, it's already my sixth year

working in the museum.

I'm thinking about that as I take my seat,

with the big wooden door at my back

and the little rope in front,

like a fence or gate.

Guarding has its tedium,

but it's not a bad job, not at all.

Before this, I taught woodworking in a vocational school

and listened to the saws buzz all day.

And before that, in my younger days,

I worked in the music business,

though it didn't seem so much

of a business to us at the time.

I managed small bands

and drove the van on many tours, both long and short,

and knew the inside of every smoke-filled

hole from Sheffield to Hamburg to my Vienna,

though there weren't quite as many

holes here as we would have liked.

So off we'd go in the van.

It was good.

Well, mostly it was good.

I like people, you see,

and to be of use...

But I had my share of loud.

So now, I have my share of quiet.

My favorite room is the Bruegel room.

It is, one can say without boasting,

the finest room of Bruegels in the world,

and perhaps the most popular room in the museum,

so there's always much watching out to do.

And when it's quiet

or one tires of looking only at visitors,

one can turn an eye to the paintings and

you will always see something new, I think.

You've heard that before, I'm sure, but it's quite true,

especially when it comes to Bruegel.

Now, some of my co-workers, I'll admit,

might not share my enthusiasm.

Some are students,

with their minds on the night's parties

or the day's exams.

And some, well some have worked here so long

it's hard to say just what they've done with their minds.

But that's their own business,

and we all seem to get along.

For me, the paintings are almost always worth a look

and the Bruegels are worth that and more.

Just the other day I noticed a frying pan

sticking up from a figure's hat

that I'd somehow missed before.

And that led me

to thinking about eggs, and to start a

search for them in different paintings.

And each time I counted one I would go

make my rounds and return to search again,

and before I knew it an hour and a

half had slipped pleasantly by.

Discarded playing cards,

a bone, a broken egg,

a cigarette butt,

a folded note,

a lost glove,

a beer can...

A woman came into the museum

and spent quite a bit of time,

first just sitting, and then looking in the galleries,

none of which is unusual in itself...

But what is it about some people that makes one curious,

while with others one would be just as

happy to never know a thing about them?

Three or four days later, she was back again,

struggling with a map

and looking more than a bit confused.

I did want to help her but I must admit,

I brought up the phone call in part because

it would allow me to confirm if her story was true.

It's sad, but one has to be careful these days.

But she did come back, and she did ask me to call.

And it was true.

She was stranded all right.

But not as stranded as her cousin, Janet,

in a coma of all things.

Anne knew nothing of the city

or how long she should or could stay,

or what to do with herself.

I guess she spent a lot of time wandering about,

but she didn't seem to have much money,

and of course, it was cold.

I got her a pass to the museum.

It was no big deal.

Nor was it any trouble to help out a bit myself.

If I were to wake up lost in Montreal,

where she came from,

it's what I'd hope someone would do for me.

It's the hands.

It's always the hands.

She asked if I'd go to the hospital with her.

"Why not?" I thought.

It felt good to see my city anew,

to go somewhere for no reason other

than to show it to someone else,

and then realize I hadn't been there in years

and actually liked these places.

They usually weren't places I'd show a regular tourist.

They had to be inexpensive, for one thing.

It made me realize how much time

I normally spent sitting at home,

and online, of course.

An art student worked here for a while.

I liked him, he was a punk kid, just as I'd been once.

He thought the museum was a bit ridiculous.

He said when he looked at the paintings,

he mostly just saw money,

or more accurately, things standing in for money.

I guess this was what he'd learned at university.

He said this was clearest in Dutch still lifes

which were essentially just piled-up

possessions of the newly rich of that time.

He said these were no different

than if someone today

were to paint a pile of Rolex watches,

champagne bottles, and flat-screen TVs,

that they were the rap-star

videos of their day.

And he said they were only less subtle versions

of all the other commodities the museum was hoarding,

and this was now just part of the way things

were disguised in the time of Late Capitalism.

He didn't hold it against the museum

personally, but he went on like that.

I asked why he always used the term "Late Capitalism,"

and how people knew it was so late,

and if it wasn't perhaps more troublesome

if what existed now was early.

He knew a lot more than me

but he didn't seem to have an answer for that.

He was also unhappy about the cost of museum admission.

I agreed it would be nicer if it was free,

but he was a big fan of the movies and

I had to remind him they cost as much

and he never complained about that.

"Yeah, you can't win," he said,

"but maybe someday everyone will lose less

"and museums and movies

could both be free."

We got to wondering how museums began.

He looked it up and was pleasantly surprised to report

that because of the French Revolution the Louvre opened

as what is considered to be the one of

the first truly public art museums

with the idea that art should be

accessible to the people,

not just tied up in the private rooms of the rich.

He was a good kid, and I'm sorry he moved on.

I watch the adolescents come through

with the big school groups.

They fool around, ignore their teachers,

send text messages.

Sometimes they compete to be the most bored

and to make fun of the art.

It gets a bit tedious but I know I'd have done the same.

Some of the paintings do get their attention,

Medusa's head of snakes works like a charm,

or rather like some horror film.

In fact we have a strong showing of severed heads here,

the Cranach Judith and Holofernes is especially graphic,

but there are at least five more.

And then of course, once they

actually start looking, there's sex

which is common in the museum, too.

It makes the kids laugh, nervously I guess.

And to be completely honest,

there are a few paintings

that look like cheap porn even to me,

soft-core of course,

but somehow just a bit sleazy.

There's one with a dog at the bottom of the picture

and even the dog looks a bit embarrassed.

But then there's the sculpture with a veiled body

that gets to almost everyone, young or old.

Or that magnificent body,

of a god I think, his penis is missing

as they often are,

but I think that just makes everyone

think about it and miss it.

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Jem Cohen

Jem Alan Cohen (born 1962) is an Afghanistan-born American filmmaker based in New York City. Cohen is especially known for his observational portraits of urban landscapes, blending of media formats (sixteen-millimetre, Super 8, videotape) and collaborations with musicians. He is the recipient of the Independent Spirit Award for feature film-making. "Cohen's films have been broadcast in Europe by the BBC and ZDF/ARTE, and in the United States by the Sundance Channel and P.B.S. They are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and Melbourne's Screen Gallery." He also makes multichannel installations and still photographs and had a photography show at Robert Miller Gallery in 2009. He has received grants from the Guggenheim, Creative Capital, Rockefeller and Alpert Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other organizations. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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