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Det Jim McLeod

Frederick Wiseman Documentaries

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I think he is the greatest documentary film maker of all time. Film Forum in New York City is showing a retrospective of his early films, here are the  ones I admire the most. What are your opinions of Wiseman and his films?



Titicut Follies (1967)

A harrowing look inside a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane. Even though we know this is all true it is hard to believe what we are seeing. The most memorable moments are a doctor smoking a cigarette while feeding a patient through a tube, and orderly taunting a naked disturbed inmate.


Law And Order (1969)

This follows Kansas City cops around their town. Filming police has become commonplace in film and TV now, but this is the original raw and brutal stuff. We see a detective put a hooker in a choke hold, not even caring he is being filmed, Also a smart mouthed juvenile car thief threatens both cops and neighbors. And we see some caring and kindness for a lost little girl by some officers.


Hospital (1970)

A tough look at a New York city hospital, it spares you nothing as we see horrific wounds, sickness and death. Most memorable scene shows a young man with an overdose vomiting up what seems like gallons.


Juvenile Court (1973)

We see juvenile offenders going through the legal process in Memphis. Most shocking is a suspected teenage child molester.


Welfare (1975)

Here we see all facets of the welfare system in 1970s New York. There is anger, compassion, sadness, lies all in a day's work. So many striking moments in this one, including a racist drunk trying to provoke black guards and  a couple obviously lying to get the welfare checks.


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I've read plenty of people heaping praise on Wiseman, but I have never seen one of his films. As far as I've seen, they are rarely, if ever, shown on TV, and I've never seen one on disc or VHS. That's not to say that they aren't out there, just not anywhere that I've had access to them.


I'll also mention that his film High School is included in the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.

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Nearly all of Wiseman's films are available on DVD, through Zipporah Films


At $40+ a pop, they'll remain unseen. 

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Wiseman's films show up on PBS sometimes.  They've recently shown In Jackson Heights, and I also saw At Berkeley a while back.  I get only a national feed for PBS on my satellite, so they must have been part of Independent Lens or POV or something like that.

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