Frederick Wiseman

"Recognizing that all film-making is a process of imposing order on filmed materials, Wiseman calls his works 'reality fictions'. His stance is not polemical or nakedly didactic, and he has been described as the cinema's most intelligent and sophisticated postwar documentarist." - The Movie Book, 1999

Frederick Wiseman

Director / Producer / Editor / Screenwriter
(1930- ) Born January 1, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Top 250 Directors

Key Production Countries: USA, France
Key Genres: Documentary, Culture & Society, Social Issues, Biography, History, Law & Crime, Military & War, Psychology, Politics & Government, Sociology, Sports, Sports & Recreation
Key Collaborators: John Davey (Cinematographer), William Brayne (Cinematographer)

"A leading exponent of 'direct cinema', Frederick Wiseman differs from figures like Pennebaker and the Maysles Brothers in that he uses documentary not for individual portraiture but for a mammoth socio-political investigation of specific American institutions. If the dispassionate tone of much of his work sometimes suggests a rather woolly liberal reluctance to take sides or to analyse, there is no denying his ability to evoke a wider social context through the relentless, intimate observation of human behaviour." - Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)
"After studying law at Yale University, he became a documentary film-maker; his first major work, Titicut Follies (1967), was a controversial exposé of life inside a state hospital for the criminally insane. He subsequently turned his camera onto other US institutions - schools, hospitals, courts and the police force - using a distinctive non-chronological style without narration." - Chambers Film Factfinder, 2006
"In 1967 he directed his first and most controversial film, Titicut Follies… His subsequent documentaries were frequently concerned with institutions of various sorts (a school, a hospital, the police, the army, a law court), depicted without commentary in cinéma-vérité style, but with some implied comment in the editing." - The Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema, 1983
"Wiseman is not an open polemicist; his films do not appear didactic. But as we are taken from one social encounter to the next, as we are caught up in the leisurely rhythms of public ritual, we steadily become aware of the theme uniting all the films. In exploring American institutions, at home and abroad, Wiseman shows us social order rendered precarious. As he has put it, he demonstrates that ‘‘there is a gap between formal and actual practice, between the rules and the way they are applied.’’ What emerges is a powerful vision of people trapped by the ramifications and unanticipated consequences of their own social institutions." - Andrew Tudor (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 2000)
“A leading exponent of Direct Cinema. Most of his documentaries are made for National Educational Television (NET). His method is to enter various institutions with his hand-held camera and shoot a vast amount of footage over a long period. He then edits it dispassionately, being careful not to give special weight to any particular scene in case it makes a subjective point. The films are shown without narration or music. The results are often fascinating eavesdroppings on institutions… but which cry out for some editorial comment.” - Ronald Bergan (A-Z of Movie Directors, 1983)
"His minimalism is decent, but puritanical and repressed. It does nothing to prohibit the power of atmosphere and experience in his films. His loyalty to bureaucracy is as great as Kafka’s, but Wiseman has so purged himself of his own reactions that he sometimes makes what seem like unattended films, sustained by the listless momentum of the system and the demoralized complicity of all of us who are involved in it. Shy of ideological commitment and formal construct, and alarmed at the prospect of his own anger or dismay, Wiseman often seems as meek as the animals who engage his sensibility most strongly—in Primate and Meat." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2010)
"Arguably the greatest documentary maker in America, Frederick Wiseman's work comes with no added ingredients. No narration, no music, no inter-titles, no obvious narrative devices. With his unflinching eye and hand-held camera, the director seems to present us with raw, unmediated and bruising reality in the tradition of Direct Cinema. But this is only an appearance. As Wiseman is the first to point out, there's little vérité in his cinema, which is both highly selected and subjective." - Lloyd Hughes (The Rough Guide to Film, 2007)
TSPDT Guide
Recommended
Titicut Follies (1967) , High School (1969), Hospital [TV] (1970), Juvenile Court (1973), Welfare (1975), Near Death (1989), Belfast, Maine (1999)
Worth a Look
Basic Training (1971), Essene (1972), Primate (1974), Canal Zone (1977), Model (1980), The Store (1983), Racetrack (1985), Blind (1987), Missile (1988), Central Park (1990), Aspen (1991), High School II (1994), Public Housing (1997), Domestic Violence (2001) , The Garden (2005), La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009) , Boxing Gym (2010) , At Berkeley (2013) , National Gallery (2014)
Approach with Caution
Sinai Field Mission (1978)
Acclaimed Films / IMDB Filmography
1,000 Greatest Films 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films
Frederick Wiseman / Favourite Films
Il Bidone (1955) Federico Fellini, A Day at the Races (1937) Sam Wood, The Dentist (1932) Leslie Pearce, Duck Soup (1933) Leo McCarey, The Gold Rush (1925) Charles Chaplin, Hôtel Terminus (1987) Marcel Ophüls, The Magician (1958) Ingmar Bergman, Modern Times (1936) Charles Chaplin, A Night at the Opera (1935) Sam Wood, Nights of Cabiria (1957) Federico Fellini.
Source: Sight & Sound (1992)
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