Frederick Wiseman Paul Bradlow - Essay

Paul Bradlow

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Wiseman's] technique [in Titicut Follies] is that of the avantgarde direct cinema. Homo homini lupus—man is a wolf to man. The text could have many names, but for the moment let me choose the cleanest: "How Not to Run a Mental Hospital."…

From the very beginning, the camera is handled as a surgical instrument, a slāshing knife, to jolt us from our complacency and indifference to ourselves. The blade of morality, with its fine point of compassion and biting edge of righteous indignation, cuts deeply. One feels, amidst the crude hilarity of the patients' chorus that introduces the film, a haunting sense of inner turmoil….

The film's faults have perhaps been minimized by defenders and exaggerated by detractors; but its essential dramatic power is documented by the violent passions it has aroused on all sides. The soundtrack is harsh and fuzzy at times, but, curiously, this grating stridency only adds to the total impact. (p. 60)

Titicut Follies represents an honorable attempt in the vigorous stream of contemporary political tradition—an attempt to pass over the heads of the established delegates and bring the case to the people. (p. 61)

Paul Bradlow, "Two … but Not of a Kind: A Comparison of Two Controversial Documentaries about Mental Illness, 'Warrendale' and 'Titicut Follies'," in Film Comment (copyright © 1969 by Film Comment Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved), Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall, 1969, pp. 60-1.∗