Frederick Wiseman: A Journal

by Stephen Mamber


                       THE SIXTIES             THE SEVENTIES             THE EIGHTIES             THE NINETIES             THE 2000S             THE 2010S             THE 2020S

Iím doing this for a few reasons. One is that in 2018, Frederick Wiseman arranged through the Kanopy streaming service to make all his films available. Before that, they were difficult to see, viewable mostly only when shown on PBS when they were first made or rented expensively on DVD. A few recent ones have shown for short times in movie theaters, back when we had movie theaters, and there have been university and festival screenings. But thatís it, until now. Kanopy is available to library card holders and universities who make deals with them, and they say about five million people can use it for free. They have lots of great movies, but this arrangement with Wiseman is really amazing. (Libraries and universities do pay to offer these streaming services, so we all owe them much appreciation! Be warned that some institutions have to limit the number of films you can see monthly.)

A second reason is that there are now about forty-five films. I think I’ve seen maybe thirty-five, and those mostly when they were first shown. So now is my chance to go through them in order and see them all. It’s not quite like someone cooking their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but it feels like an internet opportunity. My plan is to watch one every two days, and on the day in between write something and post it here. I am starting today, January 1, so I expect this to take three months.

Reason three is that I wrote about the first few a very long time ago, in the early seventies, and then I started doing other things and haven’t put any thoughts on paper about Wiseman’s films ever since. So I hope I have some useful and interesting things to say. I’d like to do it this way, discovering what thoughts I have as I view each one and then write quickly and fairly briefly as I go along. We can pretend we’re meeting up at a coffee shop after each screening and here are my immediate thoughts.

My reason four is the big one - these are really great films by a major film-maker, and like the work of all great film-makers, they pose their own challenges in thinking about their particular style and methods, and they are very much worth considering as a body of work. And Wiseman’s films seem more full of ideas than most, so I’m looking forward to seeing what a trip through all of them in order offers. Also, since he’s done about forty-five, I don’t know of anyone who has written about them all, a startling omission. And since "City Hall" has just aired on PBS in December, we can be up to date until he makes another one!

If you don’t know who Wiseman is or want any of the biographical details, you can look that stuff up. I’m doing a journal here, not a book, at least so far. I’d also suggest these are comments best read after you see the film in question too, and that’s my main goal, to encourage you to watch these films and to think about them.

This is just a journal and not a blog that allows for comments, so if you want to reach me, itís smamber@ucla.edu.

A note added here on March 27: Completed as planned!     


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