Five Films by Frederick Wiseman

Five Films by Frederick Wiseman

Five Films by Frederick Wiseman

Five Films by Frederick Wiseman

Synopsis

Frederick Wiseman is among America's foremost documentary filmmakers. The recipient of many awards, including three Emmys, Wiseman has made more than thirty feature-length documentaries during a career that has spanned five decades. Together, these films provide a fascinating chronicle of American social and institutional life. This book makes available for the first time transcriptions of five of Wiseman's most important films-- Titicut Follies, High School, Welfare, High School II, Public Housing --providing all of the dialogue as well as annotations about other aspects of the soundtracks such as music and ambient noise, and notes about editing and camera movement. These scene-by-scene transcripts enable readers to scrutinize the films' complex structural patterns, recurring motifs, editing regimes, and the unscripted dialogue that makes Wiseman's cinema a rich repository of American speech. Editor Barry Keith Grant's critical introduction discusses the importance of sound in Wiseman's documentaries. Liberally illustrated with images from the films, these meticulous transcriptions are accompanied by a bibliography and filmography.

Excerpt

For me, the making of a documentary film is in some ways the reverse of making a fiction film. With fiction, the idea for the film is transformed into a script by the imagination and work of the writer and/or director, which obviously precedes the shooting of the film. In my documentaries the reverse is true: The film is finished when, after editing, I have found its “script.” If a film of mine works, it does so because the verbal and pictorial elements have been fused into a dramatic structure. This is the result of the compression, condensation, reduction, and analysis that constitute the editing process for me.

Nothing in my films is staged for the camera. During shooting, which takes anywhere from four to twelve weeks, my goal is to accumulate material that interests me in the moment. I have no idea at the time which sequences, shots, and transitions will make it into the final film or what the themes or point of view will be. I generally use about three percent of the material shot. My work as editor, like that of the writer of a fiction film, is to try to figure out what is going on in the sequence I am watching on the editing machine. What is the significance of the words people use, the relevance of tone or changes of tone, pauses, interruptions, verbal associations, the movement of eyes, hands, and legs? Whereas the scriptwriter imagines a script, the documentary film editor, in contrast, has to understand and evaluate already existing sequences; their respective imaginative processes are totally different. The people whose behavior the editor is analyzing exist totally apart from his or her imagination. The sequences in a documentary are not staged but “found” during the process of shooting. Their importance for the film is determined by the editor, who initially evaluates them and then edits them into the form in which they will appear in the final film.

The shape of each sequence is important, but in addition the relationship . . .

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