Frederick Wiseman Nancy Ellen Dowd - Essay

Nancy Ellen Dowd

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The editing patterns in Titicut Follies are the unheralded and monstrous discoveries in the small of the mind. Two men become one, and two unrelated incidents form one episode as the intricately structured and highly organized madness reveals itself to an initiate. Perceptions and time are constantly regrouping—yet not in order that they should become credible or recognizable or even be given a name—simply changing. The film seems to have been cut as the hospital was perceived and the editing is touching and personal….

[The] words in Titicut Follies almost never advance a story or even refer to some uncompleted action or to anything we ever expect to see again; when they do, (the TV screen and the suicide remark), they are underplayed, almost inaudible. The warden who jabbers on endlessly about Eddie Mitchell having been gassed is part of an open-ended scene which is never completed. We never see or hear anything about Eddie Mitchell again.

[There] is comparatively little dialogue in the film. Speech is most often in the form of a litany …, hypnotic, and like most speech not really saying anything. There are no hackneyed exposition techniques in Titicut Follies. (p. 30)

[Speech] is rarely directed at anyone. People are usually talking to themselves. There is still competition with background noise, and several people are often talking at once. There is also a lot of singing in the film—yet, unlike opera, unrelated to any action or plot. Performances abound. (pp. 30-1)

[Titicut Follies] has no conventional hierarchy of character importance necessitating that one of the principals be on screen at all times for a reason—a reason the audience can guess and incorporate into a theme; nor is there a self-conscious departure-from-conventions attitude.

Moreover, the film is not sensationalist …; nor does it try to make a succinct statement about mental hospitals. The film reveals. To its credit, Titicut Follies defies interpretation. (p. 31)

Nancy Ellen Dowd, "Popular Conventions," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1969 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. 22, No. 3, Spring, 1969, pp. 26-31.∗