Frederick Wiseman

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Titicut Follies

Wiseman, Frederick

Last Updated: Nov-12-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


Titicut Follies is the first major, full-length documentary by Frederick Wiseman, generally considered to be the most successful independent filmmaker in the United States.  Titicut Follies (the title of the film is taken from an annual talent show produced by inmates and staff) was filmed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a sprawling facility of four divisions with four distinct populations.  Of the two thousand men warehoused there in the 1960s, only fifteen percent had ever been convicted of a crime, yet the institution was administered by the Department of Corrections rather than the Department of Mental Health--units representing very different and contradictory goals.  At the time of the filming, there were only two psychiatrists and one trainee caring for the six hundred men in the hospital section. 

Wiseman believed that public awareness of the terrible conditions at Bridgewater would create a demand for reform and improvement, and he gained unlimited access to the facility by representing the project to administration and staff as educational.   The result is a bitterly critical, shockingly brutal documentary account of the prison hospital, and despite giving Wiseman permission to make the film, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts quickly moved to ban its release.  In September 1967, just days before it was scheduled to be screened at the New York Film Festival, the attorney general filed an injunction that would permanently forbid Wiseman from showing the documentary to any audience.  In 1969, the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitted limited use for doctors, lawyers, health-care professionals, social workers and students, and in 1991, the courts finally allowed its release to the general public.  Titicut Follies is the only American film whose use has had court-imposed restrictions for reasons other than obscenity or national security.

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