I love libraries more than most people (the self-checkout! the Dewey Decimal System! the summer reading challenges! the support for freedom of speech and the right to privacy! THE TRUE CRIME SECTION!), but even I couldn’t get into Frederick Wiseman’s library documentary, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. As much as I love libraries, I simply could not abide three hours of minimally edited footage of library lectures, library board meetings, people checking out books, people performing Google searches, people attending the library’s enriching cultural events, library employees answering phones, and establishing shots of the New York Public Library and its borough branches. Let me repeat: This movie is three hours long, without any kind of organizing principle. It is a chore.
I’m not averse to onerous, artsy time commitments, and I love the New York Public Library. Its history is fascinating! (Did you know there used to be apartments there? YOU COULD’VE LIVED INSIDE THE GRANDEST LIBRARY IN NEW YORK.) But it’s annoying to watch a documentary that applies such a slow, loose approach to a worthy subject.
Sleep-aid conversations aside, Wiseman does get in some Bill Cunningham-style shots of New Yorkers in cool New York outfits doing cool New York things, and there’s also a pleasant little interlude in which senior citizens aptly discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera. But I’m not sure it’s worth getting to the hour-and-30-minute mark to see it.
Besides, if you want to see cool New Yorkers in cool outfits, there are street style blogs for that. And if you want to join in with adorable old people talking about great books, there’s a place you can do that in real life. It’s called the library. We have them in Oregon, too.