Titicut Follies

Titicut Follies

“My films are about institutions, the place is the star. I have no precise definition of ‘institution’ other than a place that has existed for a while and that has fairly circumscribed geographical boundaries and where the staff is thought to be trying to do a good job. The institution serves the same purpose for me that the lines and net do for a tennis match: it provides boundaries. What takes place inside the boundaries is fit for inclusion in the film. Outside is another film.”

Frederick Wiseman1


“Beginning with Titicut Follies, Wiseman’s work ‘represents a radical restructuring of the viewing experience.’ He simultaneously challenges us not to look away, to experience life at Bridgewater, to see and hear what it ‘is,’ and also to figure out what it means, to us as individual viewers and to the filmmaker, by discovering the structure he has developed. This duality comes through even in rejections of the film. Judge Harry Kalus called the Gilm ‘a nightmare of ghoulish obscenities and a hodge-podge of sequences, thus responding to Titicut Follies emotionally as a shocking dream and formally as an (unsatisfying) collage.”

Thomas W. Benson & Carolyn Anderson2


“Editing is a process that combines the rational and the nonrational. I have learned to pay as much attention to peripheral thoughts at the edge of my mind as to any formally logical approaches to the material. My associations are often as valuable as my attempts at deductive logic. It’s the old cliché – you find a solution to a problem because you dream it, or you’re walking down the street and it occurs to you, or you think of it in the shower. I’ve resolved editing problems many times that way, by trying to be alert to the way my mind – or what’s left of it – thinks about the material, even when I’m not formally editing. That’s why for me, total absorption is absolutely crucial. I can’t edit in a half-assed way. Editing almost kills every other aspect of my life.”

Frederick Wiseman3

  • 1Frederick Wiseman, ‘A Sketch of a Life’, in Joshua Siegel & Marie-Christine de Navacelle, eds. Frederick Wiseman (Museum of Modern Art, 2010).
  • 2Thomas W. Benson & Carolyn Anderson, Reality Fictions. The Films of Frederick Wiseman (SIU Press, 1989), 35.
  • 3Frederick Wiseman in Lola Peploe, “Frederick Wiseman, The Art of Documentary No. 1,” the Paris Review 226 (2018).
UPDATED ON 02.10.2018