Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies

Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies

Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies

Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies

Synopsis

Titicut Follies is an excoriating depiction of conditions in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater, a prison-hospital for the criminally insane. After first granting Frederick Wiseman permission to make a documentary at MCI-Bridgewater, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took Wiseman to court, seeking to prevent the exhibition of Titicut Follies soon after its release in 1967.

Excerpt

Frederick Wiseman has been making documentary films for more than twenty years. For nearly that long, we have been watching the films as they were released, usually on public television, teaching them in our classes, and occasionally writing about them. Finally, we saw that our work was leading us to attempt a full-length study of the films, which was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1989 as Reality Fictions: the Films of Frederick Wiseman. in that larger work, we have attempted to give words to the interpretations that the films seem to invite, and the rhetorical structures by which those interpretations are induced; and we have gone behind the rhetorical structure of the films to offer a glimpse of the people and processes behind the films. Since Wiseman's films speak to his audiences so deeply of their own experiences of American institutional life, it seemed important to examine in context the issues of ethics and epistemology, and the elements of convention, craft, collaboration, finance, distribution, and legal restraint that constrain the production and reception of the films.

Documentary Dilemmas, the present work, is a revision and expansion of the first two chapters of Reality Fictions, making available in a relatively inexpensive paperback edition the story of Wiseman's first and most controversial film, Titicut Follies, a documentary filmed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater. When the film was completed in 1967 its release was challenged by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, setting in motion a series of litigations and restrictions that continue twenty years later and that are unique in American film history. For over twenty years, exhibition of Titicut Follies has been restricted by order of the Massachusetts courts. in Reality Fictions, we traced the story of Titicut Follies to April 1988. the present book carries that story forward to September 1990, through a complicated and mostly unsuccessful attempt by Wiseman to open the film to unrestricted exhibition. in addition to adding the story of the most recent legal developments in the case, we . . .

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