(2009, Frederick Wiseman)
[4 out of 5 stars]
Wiseman's documentaries are known for being very long. They each focus on an institution (university, museum, ballet company, etc.) and for about three to four hours the viewer is immersed deep into its operations. Scenes play out like a tiny piece of a machine is held up and inspected. No detail is overlooked and with that long a running time his films can afford to be extremely thorough.
I made the mistake of watching two of his films in a single film festival - NATIONAL GALLERY and AT BERKELEY. The former is three hours long and the latter runs just over four hours. In that particular environment - where you're already bleary-eyed from watching film after film - those viewings were difficult to sit through.
I streamed LA DANSE and watched it over a few sittings and it was so much more rewarding that way. The film does not have a clear narrative; it is just watching people work. It listens to their conversations intently even if it is humdrum. The dance rehearsals are repetitive but it has a strangely soothing effect. There's something quietly comforting about observing people discuss the intricacies of dance. A slight stiffness of the back or the aggressiveness of a landing communicates plenty, sometimes subconsciously, in that microscopic gesture.
Wiseman and his camera explore every nook and cranny of this institution. There are scenes of cleaners mopping the marble floors after a performance and some scenes about the administration.
It all sounds boring but it's not. It makes a spectacle out of mundanity and embraces tedious day-to-day work which is the bulk of the work passionate people do but rarely do they get shown so publicly and with this much dedication.