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Titicut Follies
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Reviews & Ratings for
Titicut Follies More at IMDbPro »

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60 out of 66 people found the following review useful:

So good it's almost unwatchable

Author: James Pierson (jpierson@erols.com) from Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA
16 June 1999

When someone asks me "What's the best documentary you've ever seen?" I find myself in a quandary. The best documentary I've ever seen is Titicut Follies, but for the life of me I couldn't recommend it. That's because this stark portrayal of the "treatment" of the insane at a Massachusetts state asylum is terrifyingly, horribly disturbing. The documentary reflects the horror of its subject matter. Once seen, it is unforgettable. I find it difficult to take responsibility for exposing another person to this film. And that is probably the highest compliment I can pay it.

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42 out of 50 people found the following review useful:

Uneven but disturbing artifact of the history of mental illness

Author: mesmeric from New Jersey, Earth
2 July 2004

Others have summarized this documentary well, so I would like to add my comments rather than go over ground covered by others.

It is hard to view this film and watch the dehumanization and brutalization of these patients. They are shown naked being provoked into angry outbursts by the guards, force-fed, locked in solitary confinement naked with a metal bucket for a toilet and hundreds of other indignities. Even the fact that the film-makers had such access is a shocking violation since patients committed involuntarily are unable to give informed consent.

But this was made in 1967 before modern anti-psychotic medications were developed. As a Clinical Social Worker who has worked extensively with the chronic mentally ill over the last decade, I was shocked to see how primitive the treatment methods were, even though I was prepared by my research in graduate school. Tranquilizers were being prescribed to mitigate the symptoms of paranoia, the psychiatric interviews with patients included lots of leading questions and they were treated rudely and dismissively even when the patients were making some good points about their commitments.

It was obvious that the staff and volunteers were just doing the best they could, but I have less sympathy for the Hungarian psychiatrist who at times seemed as disturbed as his patients. The volunteers running games and parties and shows reminded me of the Friendly Visitors to the Poor, those well-intentioned 19th C. socialites who volunteered to sing hymns and read the Christian bible to poor people in the tenements to "improve" their lives.

All in all, this is a very worthwhile film and highly recommended to professionals and interested others in the mental health field. Yes, there are some definite ethical problems in the way this was created, but as a historical record it is invaluable. I give this 9/10.

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29 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Wiseman's first film

9/10
Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
22 September 2008

"Titicut Follies" is a controversial documentary by Frederick Wiseman. The film records events at the Bridgewater State Prison For the Criminally Insane. It was shot in 1967, but was subjected to a worldwide ban until 1992. The Judicial Court ruled that the film was an invasion of inmate privacy, but in reality Wiseman had been granted full permission to film at the prison. The ban was merely an attempt by the authorities to silence the uneasy truths that Wiseman's camera had uncovered.

Wiseman is oft said to be of the leading proponents of cinéma verité. His films have no narration, music or titles. He simply observes his subjects with cool, clinical detachment. Whatever Wiseman records, the viewer is left to interpret for themselves. Nothing is explained.

Along with Emile de Antonio, Wiseman is one of the godfathers of documentary cinema. Throughout his career, he'd established the standard for what is now known as "observational" or "objective" documentary film-making. Unfortunately, this tag obfuscates the many symbolic, didactic and "engineered contrasts" found in Wiseman's films. Wiseman's films aren't strictly "objective". They have points to make, and are never free of his subjective biases.

Unlike many documentary filmmakers, Wiseman's films all focus on institutions. His subjects are whole organisations, and he typically generates "drama" by simply observing the various cogs and people at work within these societal machines. High schools, welfare offices, zoos, hospitals, ballet groups, army basic training camps, small towns, ICBM bases and business corporations are just some of the institutions he's tackled.

With "Titicut Follies", Wiseman goes behind the walls of a Massachusetts Mental Institution and exposes the treatment of inmates by guards and social workers. The footage he shoots is both macabre and revolting. The mental institution pretends to be a place of logic and the scientific method, but Wiseman reveals it to be a place of chaos and absurdity. Patients are deemed "mentally unsound" simply for not conforming to the institution's absurd standards. They're routinely teased and bullied, and left to roam the corridors completely naked. One articulate patient attempts to get his doctor to explain why he's being imprisoned, but the doctor has no answer.

Several inmates, one a socialist and the other an intelligent Russian, seem to be in the institution for political reasons. Both are of sound mind, but because they sympathise with the communist cause and distrust American's involvement in Vietnam, they've been labelled paranoid schizophrenics and jailed indefinitely.

The hardest scene to watch is of a forced feeding. A doctor smokes a cigarette as he inserts a long rubber tube into a patient's nostril and pours soup into a funnel. Halfway into the procedure, the doctor's cigarette falls into the funnel. In a surprisingly heavy handed directorial intrusion, Wiseman inter-cuts this painful scene with glimpses of the patient's corpse being prepared for burial.

Frederick Wiseman is a curious case in cinema. You can arguably group modernist "brain" cinema into two categories: left brain artists and right brain artists. Left brain artists (Antonioni, Kubrick, Bresson, Haneke etc) are very rare. They're logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective and look at things in terms of parts, units or sections.

Right brain artists are more common. They're intuitive, holistic, synthesising, subjective and look at wholes. They like randomness and communities. Altman, John Sayles, Spike Lee, Fassbinder, Wenders, Malle, Fellini and Lynch are good examples.

Wiseman's form is very much like a Stanley Kubrick film. He sees his subjects in terms of sections and parts. In terms of machines and larger constructs. His camera is always distant, detached and objective. One can see echoes of "Full Metal Jacket" in Wiseman's "Basic Training" and "2001" in "Zoo".

But behind this is an artist who seems to embrace improvisation and chaos. Wiseman works fast with a single camera and a simple microphone. He catches what he can, without purpose and plan, sculpting his films entirely in the moment. This lends his films, when viewed together, a strange feel. You get the sense of large social constructs, giant institutions and sprawling communities, machine like in their workings and routines, and yet within these machines, Wiseman captures fleeting glimpses of humanity, spontaneous and wild.

8/10 – This is a nightmarish little film. It's not as great as some of Wiseman's later flicks, but it is perhaps his most influential. To this day it remains the only movie in U.S. history to be banned for reasons other than obscenity or national security. Director Milos Foreman would screen "Titicut Follies" for his crew prior to making "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and Paddy Chayevsky would base "The Hospital" on Wiseman's "Hospital". Makes a good companion-piece to Wiseman's "Near Death".

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37 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

A very unpleasant film.

Author: jim riecken (youroldpaljim)
16 February 2002

Fred Wiseman's documentary about the lives of inmates at a Massachusetts mental institution is a very disturbing film to watch. I dare anyone to watch this with out feeling at least a bit uneasy. Watching this film one can't help thinking if the "treatments" given to these poor lost souls actually worsens their condition. One articulate inmate argues the treatment and medication he is given are making him sick. He begs to be sent back to prison, rather than spend another day in this wretched institution. The doctors respond by claiming he has developed paranoia and orders his medication increased! The doctors come across as cruel and callous. They seem to regard the inmates as guinea pigs rather than patients to be treated. One doctor, who is shown constantly chain smoking, looks and sounds like a Nazi concentration camp doctor.

TITICUT FOLLIES is a very shocking film, I would only recommend it with caution to others.

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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Scary but true

9/10
Author: vjax1451 from United States
5 September 2009

I saw this film while in college back in the 1970's and was amazed and disturbed. I think it was banned or hard to find at that time. My professor was able to get a copy. It is difficult to describe this documentary. It was sad, harshly realistic and horrific. This was how inmates/patients were treated, but again, it was the 1960's. They were likely using the same treatment methods since the 1920's. One interesting note, I met one of the patients who was in the film. He had been released and apparently was doing well enough. I'll not identify him because he was well known in his community. He remembered the filming, but did not know that he was famous for it. He has since passed away, but many people remember him fondly. If there can be a bright side to this film, I guess that's it.

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

After all these years this should be freely available

10/10
Author: hrising from United States
31 October 2006

Like Mr. Pierson, I find it strange to give this movie a "10" since it is not something to see for a good time.

When I saw this movie in 1972, I considered myself very lucky, since I was from Massachusetts, where it was banned, and saw it only because it was shown in my Psych class in college in New York State. We had a special showing for our class and (literally) were told not to eat before seeing the film.

There was quite a bit of controversy over it, and over Bridgewater in Massachusetts back then, somehow I just assumed that the film would be available and not banned by now. The ban only protected the state of Massachusetts, really, from being portrayed as a government that ran an prison for the criminally insane where people only went in, and never came out, where prisoners were mistreated, and where the craziest person in the place was the warden. Bridgewater was used as a threat to people at the Charles Street Jail to keep in line, it was considered like a death sentence. Massachusetts probably wasn't alone, I've heard that Napa was used as a threat to people in San Quentin back then as well.

How strange about it still being restricted, I hadn't thought of it in a long time and was actually researching hunger strikes when it crossed my mind. I wonder how Bridgewater in the '60s compares to anything now.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

I'm very angry

Author: milerjane from United States
19 October 2011

This is less of a documentary review and more an eye opener to those who plan on seeing this movie.

I know a man who was there. He's a beautiful and wonderful man who was tortured there as a small child. There was nothing wrong with him. He never knew a childhood of love and nurturing, only pain and suffering. He is one of many, "Normal" people who suffered at the hands of these doctor's at this horrific hospital.

When and if you decide to watch this please keep in mind that what is filmed is only a small portion of the real horrors of which man kind is capable of. Then think how you too can help people see the truth behind many of the wrongs still happening today.

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13 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Amazing, harrowing documentary look at the mistreatment of mental patients.

10/10
Author: Rigor from Chicago, USA
11 July 1999

This is easily one of the most disturbing documentary films ever made. The state of Mass. blocked distribution of this film for well over a decade after its release because it was simply too honest and unflinching in its portrayal of the horrific systemic abuses of this institution. What makes the film so very important is not simply its evidence about this particular institution, but, the light it sheds on the kind of society that would treat the least fortunate of its members in this dehumanizing and cruel way. There is political analysis offered by the patients themselves that brings in the rather obvious connections to the police state, colonization, and genocide.

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Must see Documentary

Author: Phantom Moonhead
8 March 2000

Incredible,disturbing real film will leave you with that uneasy feeling for several days. A must for anyone interested in or researching mental illness and/or institutions. Point of view realized by both employees and patients.

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12 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

The most disturbing film I've ever seen.

10/10
Author: miloc from Bronx, New York
6 March 2002

I've had the good fortune to see TITICUT FOLLIES, which for legal reasons has long been a difficult thing to do. It's an appalling, unnerving, and deeply important film. It has cut into my mind the way very few films, documentaries or otherwise, have succeeded in doing.

I urge people, documentary fans or no, to seek this out. It casts a terrible reflection on society's view of the mentally ill, and the treatment thereof. Perhaps the conditions at Titicut have improved, but I'm not sure society's attitudes have at all.

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