Film Title: Museum Hours
Director: Jem Cohen
Starring: Bobby Summer, Mary Margaret O'Hara
Running Time: 107 min
We’re fully paid up and subscribed fans of the Jem Cohen milieu: as much as we love watching any old documentary on Fugazi, watching Instrument – Cohen’s portrait of our favourite Washington punks – is just that little bit sweeter.
We’re okay with the Walter Benjamin experiments and the Len Lye squiggles. We’re into the associative editing and genre bending. And so, we’ve often toyed with the notion: wouldn’t it be great if Jem made a movie-movie, one they could show at the multiplex?
Sadly, Museum Hours, though a perfectly workaday introduction to the Cohen oeuvre, is not a movie-movie. It’s not even one of his more notable offerings.
Set in and roundabout Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, this sweet but ultimately unsatisfactory, oddity casts songstress Mary Margaret O’Hara as a touring Canadian who, between visits to a comatose cousin’s sickbed, lingers around various masterpieces by Rembrandt and Bruegel, notably The Conversion of St Paul.
She soon attracts the interest of a gay security guard (Bobby Summer). A tender relationship ensues against a tour of the museum. The camera repeatedly falls on certain works and repeatedly asks us to make connections between life and art.
Cohen creates a very cerebral version of join-the-dots around a demi-semi Before Sunrise near-miss, but there’s no passion or fire with which to engage. Despite affecting performances, gentle philosophical voiceover and ghostly cinematography from the director and fellow-DOP Peter Roehsler, Cohen’s characteristically blurred lines here make for Frankenstein company.
Museum Hours is neither romance, nor documentary, nor travelogue. Instead, it sits uncomfortably as a weird in-between facsimile, as though we’re being asked to study postcard reproductions of great artworks. One for Cohen completists only.