Documentary Veteran Frederick Wiseman: ‘I Don’t Like the Description ‘Observational Cinema’

Documentary Veteran Frederick Wiseman: ‘I Don’t Like the Description ‘Observational Cinema’
Amsterdam – For a man of 86, Frederick Wiseman has enough energy and stamina to shame a man half his age. Attending Idfa with a screening of his 1970 documentary “Hospital,” a study of New York’s Metropolitan Hospital Center, Wiseman brought along extra clips from two near-contemporary movies – 1971’s “Basic Training” and 1975’s “Welfare” to explain his methods, but what emerged from the three-hour masterclass was not simply how insightful those films were in their day but how relevant to modern America they still are.

Surprisingly, although his style is famously non-interventionist, in contrast to the more populist style of America’s Michael Moore and the U.K.’s Louis Theroux, Wiseman took issue with the conception of his films as ‘observational’. “I don’t like the description ‘observational cinema’,” he said, “because for me that suggests that you just set up the camera in the corner of the room and let it run forever.
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Interview: Director Frederick Wiseman Pays Visit to Parisian Cabaret in ‘Crazy Horse’

Chicago – Frederick Wiseman doesn’t pretend to be an expert on the locations that he explores in his documentaries. It’s his meticulous attention to detail during production that makes the audience feel as if they are truly immersed in the environment of Wiseman’s films. Only during the editing process does the director find the meaning within the images.

Wiseman’s approach to nonfiction cinema is utterly organic and often very revealing. His formidable filmography, comprised of 37 documentaries and two fiction works, began with 1967’s “Titticut Follies,” which took a brutally frank and vital look at the abuse inside the Massachusetts Correctional Institution Bridgewater. The director’s repeated study of disturbing subject matter led some of his peers, such as Errol Morris, to deem his work “misanthropic,” but Wiseman insists that’s not the case. His latest film, “Crazy Horse,” pays exuberant tribute to the dancers of the titular
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Frederick Wiseman's Bout With "Boxing Gym"

  • IFC
Frederick Wiseman's Bout With
Like all of Frederick Wiseman's films, his latest has a title that seems to say it all: "Boxing Gym" is basically an hour-and-a-half of sights and sounds from an Austin area boxing gym. As usual, though, there's more going on here. In presenting glimpses of different trainees - be they kids enjoying a fun sport, ordinary folks getting a workout, or actual fighters preparing for their next bout - "Boxing Gym" takes on a meditative quality, but that mesmerizing quality is eventually breached when the real-life violence of the Virginia Tech massacre thousands of miles away intrudes on the boxers' world and becomes a point of discussion.

The legendary director, whose films include such classics as "Titicut Follies," "High School," and "Public Housing," has made the exploration of the nature of American institutions his great artistic project, and the boxing gym is a manifestation of one way violence presents itself in ordinary American life,
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Wiseman Series Filling a Year at MoMA

Wiseman Series Filling a Year at MoMA
"Smile like you did when you got your draft card." A freshly picked recruit is getting his photo taken at Fort Knox in the summer of 1970, and smile he does. At this point of Frederick Wiseman's 1971 film "Basic Training," laughter arose from the packed house at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Whether it be at a basic training camp or mental hospital, a high school or a ...
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Doc Talk: Why Remake a Documentary as a Dramatic Film?

  • Cinematical
Doc Talk: Why Remake a Documentary as a Dramatic Film?
What constitutes a remake of a documentary? Would you consider Milk to be based on The Times of Harvey Milk? Rob Epstein, who directed the latter, was thanked in the credits of the former and his film was surely an inspiration. His footage was even lifted or recreated for parts of Gus Van Sant's dramatized version. But Milk was ultimately deemed an original work, at least as far as the Academy Awards are concerned.

If you were to argue the case that the biopic is based on the documentary, where then would you draw the line? Is Monster based on Nick Broomfield's first Aileen Wuornos film (he too is thanked)? Is part of Munich based on One Day in September? And speaking of films by Kevin Macdonald, is The Last King of Scotland at all a remake of Barbet Schroeder's General Idi Amin Dada? It does feature footage from the doc,
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MoMA Celebrates Frederick Wiseman

Ballet (1995). USA. Directed, produced, and edited by Frederick Wiseman. Courtesy of Zipporah Films. The Museum of Modern Art has recently acquired 36 new prints from octogenarian documentarian Frederick Wiseman that span his 40-year plus career making cinema verite. Wiseman has turned his unforgiving 16mm camera on institutions as varied as the ballet (La Danse, Ballet), a department store (The Store), the Us Army (Basic Training), Public Housing, and education (High School, High School II) to much acclaim. The films are unmitigated exposes of society itself. One of the MoMA's feature films in this exhibit is Wiseman's 1967 debut Titicut Follies, which remains arguably his most famous and controversial documentary. Follies shined a much-needed light on the abuses inside the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts, abuses so appalling that the documentary was banned from public showings for 24 years. As the MoMA notes, "It is still the ...
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