Titicut Follies

Dymphna is the emblem of all neuroses, she is invoked at once before the bar of psychiatry. The treatment is relatively humane, the prisoners are naked because they soil themselves and are insensate. Brutality is not in evidence, only verbal prodding of a cantankerous inmate, and a rough shave.

The criminally insane are surprisingly good singers, have a remarkable political understanding, or just pad and stomp in their cells. A pharmacopœia alleviates catatonia and paranoia, with some hope of improvement. The prognosis is not generally so good, benefit of clergy is offered.


Law and Order

A flat unfamiliarity with the terms primarily characterizes the principals, young, loud talkers, evasive, ignorant or innocent of the world.

The rostrum of public order mounted by a presidential candidate is the daily routine, lost little girl, domestic squabbles, ambulance cases, crimes and misdemeanors.

Kansas City, Mo.

Awarded an Emmy, admired by Pauline Kael of The New Yorker as “powerful”.



A visit to the hospital, Metropolitan Hospital Center, New York City.

A plethora of cases, well and ill. Welfare adjunct, psychiatry, police, sermon in the chapel on the greatness of God and the littleness of His creatures.

Shown on television, awarded two Emmys.


Basic Training

As depicted in a number of films, here with an inside view made faster by the familiarity of the subject.

Time Out Film Guide must have this explained (“bleak... institutional indoctrination... dehumanisation”), Lt. (later Capt.) Hoffman does so, “learn how to become a soldier.”



Thought goes into everything while training is underway for children at the school, in addition to their regular studies, they learn to walk in the dark and do everything else.

Alabama School for the Blind, Talladega.

Vincent Canby was perplexed by side issues like discipline and sociology “that gnaw at the mind” (New York Times).


Central Park

The great park is seen and talked about a great deal, a thing of genius.

Three hours in Central Park, viewed from every angle.

A major study conducted informally.




Wiseman goes behind the scenes to chance dispelling one great illusion of ballet, and sets the thing on a great basis. Dancers dance constantly, it is revealed, and occasionally invite paying audiences to see them at work.

These technical grounds make for a finer understanding, and do no harm to the art at all.


La Comédie-Française, ou L’amour joué

The great revelation is the decline of theater as a general principle, and not the mere want of Broadway. The same ossified and inchoate æsthetics, the same preoccupation with inutile electronics, and finally the same nostalgia, occupy Molière’s house as much as Shubert’s.


Belfast, Maine

The broken connections of Wiseman’s High School are solidified into lilt, in this refreshingly sane look behind the scenes Down East. It’s the poetry of line upon line and percept on percept, and like a poem or a balance sheet it culminates in an irrefutable bottom line.

Wiseman is an expert diagnostician. At the risk of being misunderstood, one would compare him to a special breed of dog that doesn’t worry bones or follow a spoor, but sits panting until it receives enough scent particles to make an identification. Maybe there’s a more elegant way to say it, but one can’t think how.


Domestic Violence

The new city and its human wreckage, as seen on Cops.

Tampa, home of the Central Command, morning to night.

To avoid a stalker, one must either “disappear” or attain the Nirvana of asking, “what does it matter what a jerk thinks?” Mencius surprised his wife in an indecorous posture, wanted to divorce her, was put at fault by his mother for failing to knock.

Echoes of The Third Man (empty playground in the rain), Steaming (group therapy), and Major Barbara (the raucous tales of brutality), with Philip of Macedon judging his subjects in the end. “I appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober!”

Part II: men on trial.


La Dernière Lettre

From the Ukraine, essentially describing two salient events, the arrival of the Germans and the edict against Jews, “‘vous êtes hors la loi.’”

To the son of the writer his mother, a woman and her shadow, wearing the star of David, “nous marchons dans la rue, sur les trottoirs... et plusieurs fois j’ai vu des yeux pleins de larmes... je me suis senti mieux.

Wiseman’s staging at the Comédie-Française, a play of shadows, a Beckettian study of le geste. Mon Dieu, quelle misère partout!

Quels hommes merveilleux, inadaptés, charmants, tristes, et bons.” Liquidation of a shtetl, “on extermine systématiquement,presence and absence. “Je regarde autour de moi et je me dis, est-il possible que nous soyons tous condamnés à mort, qui attendent leur exécution,” just then the repeated shadow becomes distinct from the actress, no longer an exact projection, an effect from Dreyer’s Vampyr insensibly evoking Boulez’ Dialogue de l’ombre double. “Je me réveille et de nouveau ce plafond, je me souviens que les Allemagnes occupent notre terre, que je suis une lépreuse...” Figure and shadow rejoin, dispart, “c’est notre toute dernière séparation.”

Markland Taylor (Variety, reviewing the stage production), “far beyond tears.”

Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times, “riveting”. J. Hoberman (Village Voice), “demonstrates the power of language, performance, and narrative to hold an audience spellbound.” Shlomo Schwartzberg (Boxoffice Magazine), “devastating”. Peter Rainer (New York Magazine), “seems densely inhabited.Time Out, “simple and powerful”. Maria Garcia (Film Journal International), “lacks the profound insights you might imagine such a film would embrace.Ken Fox (TV Guide), “all the fear and understanding that comes with impending destruction.”


Domestic Violence 2

In contrast to the collegial atmosphere of Part 1, Part 2 presents preliminary hearings and adjudications. Here, a kind of jackass justice is dispensed on the fly.

Apparently, the number of cases precludes any sort of preparation. Clerks and judges alike flip through papers or screens for scant facts, D.A.s out of law school ask perfunctory questions, and the prevailing theory seems to be that wearied intimidation is the best one can do with the stream of offenders.

Exteriors of the new city simply correlate these happenings with other evidence of social vitality, primarily architectural. To say our buildings don’t fall down isn’t much praise.


The Garden

Wiseman’s film turns out to be the best barometer of New York, because it’s the only one of his films debarred from public exhibition.

So we have all been turned out of The Garden (Madison Square Garden) by the management, who are said to object to certain scenes in which they appear.

The truth about a Frederick Wiseman documentary is always larger than a place or an institution, it’s just Americans, after all.

It happened to Ken Russell (Dance of the Seven Veils), it happened to Rembrandt, and it happened before to Wiseman (Titicut Follies).


State Legislature

Idaho’s part-timers (the Speaker mentions California’s “professionals”).

Microchipping foreign cows, robots for the military, “video voyeurism”, teacher pay, you name it, dealt with in the State Capitol.

You know what goes on because you live there, in Idaho (or California or someplace else), and because you’ve seen The Jerk (dir. Carl Reiner) you know exactly what it is to be suddenly raised to an eminence, listening to cockamamie pleas all day and granting them surcease, or not.

Wiseman and his camera film it for its several aspects, strange, familiar, and very poetic in the Capra sense, dead end or interregnum.

Imagine a society of unacknowledged legislators come to life, a living literary magazine (The Idaho Review, say, or California Quarterly, the New York Review of Books, even).

Listen to the Speaker on Idaho’s water, and learn what a state legislature is for, because everything in the state that isn’t nailed down is up for grabs.

Variety cited Bismarck on sausage and the other thing.

“An impeccably constructed illustration in depth, ceaselessly alert and cumulatively profound” (Nathan Lee, Village Voice).

Time Out Film Guide is of the same opinion, “a refreshingly dense, meticulous and objective work”.