Frederick Wiseman Robert Hatch - Essay

Robert Hatch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As far as content is concerned, Mr. Wiseman is relentlessly explicit [in Titicut Follies]. His documentation amply confirms what one had suspected—that Bridgewater, and presumably dozens of institutions like it across the country, are Gothic anachronisms…. The resemblance [to an old-fashioned zoo] is heightened by the life of the place: the inmates spend a large part of their time naked in the airless warmth and the large, slow-moving guards treat them with the indulgent informality of keepers for their charges. However, I can't recall ever seeing a zoo custodian bait the animals, as some of the guards ride their prisoners….

The film makes clear—what we already know—that institutions like Bridgewater are ill-equipped and understaffed (except for the guards, who seem to congregate like elephants in the cramped alleys). Recreation is almost nonexistent (a bare exercise ground where monomaniacs harangue their fellows, a birthday party, a tense little woman trying to get men in their 50s and 60s to play a game suitable for 5 year olds). It is shameful, but that it is a snake pit, I'm not prepared to say. That is a matter of context, and Titicut Follies offers no more context than the typical TV network one-hour "controversy." I feel expected to express outrage, and am willing to do so—something is obviously very wrong. But before I begin yelling I need to know the quality of the iniquity and the identity of the villains.

Robert Hatch, "Films: 'Titicut Follies'," in The Nation (copyright 1967 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 205, No. 14, October 30, 1967, p. 446.