The Great Museum (DVD review) 2014 / 94 minutes / On sale from 9th Feb/ Cert: Exempt / Genre: Documentary / Matchbox Films / Director: Johannes Holzhausen


This feature documentary portrays one of the most important museums in the world: Vienna’s Museum of Art History or the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. The Great Museum presents a unique look behind the scenes of this fascinating institution and encounters a number of charismatic protagonists and their working fields unfolding the museum’s special world – as an art institution as well as a vehicle for stately representation.

A peak behind the curtain, or more like access all areas, this is a documentary that examines the day to day operations of the re-installation of the Kunstkammer galleries (that hold weird or strange art pieces and artifacts) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

To some effect, that is all the film is. Director Holzhausen simply films the staff and personnel as they plan then carry out activities around the re-installation. Whether they be discussing what price to charge visitors to dusting some odd little antique, Holzhausen appears to have no involvement in what happens.


This at times can be dull in places as some areas will go over the head of some viewers. It is also repetitive in places as a result. But the viewer is never more than several minutes away from the Museum’s staff intently examining something unusual like a mummified corpse or a statue of two sword fighting frogs.

Filmed across two years, the film follows a narrative of sorts as a result. Progress made by the venue is captured on camera, it is subtle but it is there. By the end of the feature, the ‘journey’ is complete. Yet the reopening is only shown briefly, the final moments of the documentary concentrating on some pieces in storage before listing all the staff featured.

Special features.
Automaten Short Films (15 mins) – Filmed by Holzhausen, this extra consists of several short films of numerous antiques and what they do (such as a wind up musical carriage or a clock). Much like the main feature, these are a simple but eye catching piece of film.

There is also a gallery and a trailer.

Documentary making at its most simplistic yet efficient, The Great Museum is a unique look into life behind closed doors in an unlikely place.

– James Simpson

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