Episode 4: frederick wiseman

The king of cinema verite rejects that label and dives into Titicut Follies, his first and perhaps, most important work.

 
 An inmate at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane. Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films.

An inmate at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane. Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films.

As a law professor in the 1960s, Frederick Wiseman took his classes on tours of the State Prison for the Criminally Insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

When he quit teaching to pursue filmmaking, Wiseman got permission to take a camera and microphone inside Bridgewater. He spent weeks there documenting the lives of prisoners, guards and psychiatrists. He even filmed a prison variety show, "Titicut Follies."

Later, the State of Massachusetts sued Wiseman to prevent the release of his documentary, Titicut Follies. Eventually, Wiseman won. Now, 50 years later, Titicut Follies is widely considered essential viewing for documentary film lovers.

It’s unflinching.

And it launched his trademark style of filmmaking: no interviews, no music, no restaging of events, no crawl of type identifying subjects and places. His documentaries — he’s made more than 35 films in 50 years — are his and his alone.

In this episode of The Drunk Projectionist film podcast, Wiseman reveals the secrets behind Titicut Follies. And we also chat about Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. Did you know Wiseman directed a version of the play in Paris? And that he once played the masturbating husband? And that he has very strong opinions on whether the husband's masturbation should be implied or explicit?

— Todd Melby

THE WISEMAN FILE

 Guards at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane. Photos courtesy of Zipporah Films.

Guards at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane. Photos courtesy of Zipporah Films.

It’s a pompous French term. It has no meaning.
— Frederick Wiseman on cinema verité
 An inmate at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane. Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films.

An inmate at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane. Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films.

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