Documentarian: Five Films by Frederick Wiseman
This year marks Frederick Wiseman’s 50th year as a documentary filmmaker. The foremost chronicler of America’s institutions, Wiseman has made 40 feature-length movies—among them such eye-opening works as Juvenile Court, State Legislature, Domestic Violence, Public Housing, Basic Training, The Store, Ballet, and Zoo. Trained as a lawyer, Wiseman employs a modus operandi that involves selecting a subject and location, planting himself there with a small crew, and shooting hours and hours of footage as unobtrusively as possible. When filming ends, he edits his raw material down to a manageable length and shapes it into something both dramatic and poetic. Wiseman’s immersive, “you are there” approach forgoes voice-over narration, interviews, and on-screen statistics and explanatory texts. Viewers must make up their own minds about what they see.
In February, Wiseman was awarded an honorary Oscar for his life’s work. This June, we celebrate the start of his sixth decade as a moviemaker with a look back at five of the early masterpieces that established his exalted reputation. Included is a new, 50th-anniversary restoration of his electrifying, long-suppressed debut film, Titicut Follies. All five movies show in Morley Lecture Hall.
Admission to each film is $10; museum members, seniors 65 & over, students $7.
Frederick Wiseman’s debut film is an unflinching exposé of Massachusetts’s Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. The movie was banned for 20 years because it allegedly violated the inmates’ privacy and dignity. But what it really did was show how the state tortured and abused people in its care.
Wiseman’s second documentary is a frank, often funny, fly-on-the-wall look at the daily activities within Philadelphia’s Northeast High School during spring 1968. Selected for the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1991.
Take a look inside East Harlem’s Metropolitan Hospital Center, mostly the emergency ward and outpatient clinic, in this unvarnished look at urban health care circa 1970. Winner of two Emmy awards, the movie was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1994.
Another Emmy winner for Wiseman, this “direct cinema” classic captures Kansas City policemen as they perform their multiple roles—as law enforcers, maintainers of order, and social workers—on any given day.
The staggering diversity of problems that confront welfare workers daily—housing, unemployment, divorce, medical and psychiatric problems, abandonment, abuse, and old age—are vividly brought to life in this empathetic epic.