8.4/10
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3 user 1 critic

Juvenile Court (1973)

An unobtrusive and naturalistic examination of the goings-on of a children's court, Memphis Juvenile Court 616.

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An unobtrusive and naturalistic examination of the goings-on of a children's court, Memphis Juvenile Court 616. Here, minors of various ages are seen interacting with social workers, lawyers, probation officers, parents, psychiatrists and the residing judge in cases that range from shoplifting to indecent assault and armed robbery. Wiseman's camera takes an unflinching Cinéma Vérité look at these events, leaving the viewer to assess the efficacy of the court system and the broader societal rationales behind it. Written by rmiles92

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12 January 1982 (Denmark)  »

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Near Perfect Institutional Documentary
4 June 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I saw this film along with a visit by FW to my university in the late 1970s - and haven't seen it since. I saw "Aspen" in the 90's and liked it, well enough but less. It's hard to find FW's work on DVD. I looked him up today because New Yorker's David Denby has reviewed a new film about the Idaho State Legislature which IMDb doesn't seem to be aware of.

I think Mr. Yates 2002 comment about Juvenile Court as a test of "ethics" is well-taken, but don't think the point is for omniscient viewers to draw moral judgments about participants in the documentary - as if they could do better. The most compelling thing about FW's films is the ability to bring out a genuine, even decent, humanity in the people working within institutional constraints. The main pattern of interaction in the film is between apparently well-meaning authorities in their jobs, who see and apparently sincerely try to help the juvenile offenders for the 15 minutes or hour-or-two the job mandates - but then clinically or even surgically sever the relationship. The main realization is that such a setup can't possibly work. My impression was that instead of a series of discontinuous ceremonial office visits, each of the kids needed to be taken home and raised by one of the decent people who interviewed them.


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