Frederick Wiseman’s fly-on-the-wall documentary style is, at its best, some of the most powerful documentary filmmaking of the last fifty years. Titicut Follies (1967) is a masterpiece, and few films so efficiently capture the absurdity of reality so thoroughly in the first ten minutes.
Add to that madness it’s unique distinction of having been the only American film banned from release for reasons other than obscenity or national security—in this case the privacy of the various inmates he filmed—and you have something special.
I am also a huge fan of his 1997 documentary Public Housing, which is a painstaking look at the day-to-day life in a public housing project on the South Side of Chicago (and it very well could have been the inspiration for a large part of the first season of The Wire).
So while I was searching around for stuff on Wiseman recently, I noticed that his second film made the year after Titicut Follies is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a lower middle class high school in Philadelphia titled High School. Below is a scene I found from the film thanks to MOMA (nice to see MOMA giving out embed code), and it is scary how quickly it becomes apparent that the role of school seems to be designed to crush the spirit of the student, and teach them to fall in line.
“We are out to establish that you can be a man, and that you can take orders.”
And what’s remarkable to me, is that in this scene the kid is vehemently arguing his case, trying to communicate his position to the Dean. But, alas, like most of us, he finally concedes principles to institutional authority and decides to accept his unjust punishment.
I really wanna get my hands on this one, I think a few mashups would be in order 🙂