Documentarian Frederick Wiseman has been noted for his ability to capture the nuances of life in American institutions such as prisons, hospitals, welfare offices, and high schools. He started out in 1963 by producing a fictional feature film, The Cool World, an examination of the lives of Harlem teenagers. In the beginning, Wiseman was a staunch social reformist, and his films were calls for change. Titicut Follies, his first documentary, is an exposé of life in a prison for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, MA. It was controversial and left Wiseman with the reputation of being a muckraker. His four subsequent documentaries were all exposés of other tax-supported institutions designed to show the ineffectiveness of the bureaucracy that not only threatens to destroy them, but also dehumanizes the people they were meant to serve. Wiseman toned down his message and began focusing more on American culture to point out the symbolism of daily activities in his film Primate (1974). In… read more
Wiseman manages to capture the intricate beliefs, attitudes, values and social undercurrents that are present in U.S.A.'s late 60's - made all the more visible in an educational institute whose sole purpose is to perpetuate and mold these beings into something society deems as 'normal'. My only concern: the comportment/attitude of certain individuals was noticeably influenced by the presence of the camera.
The mechanisms and institutions of childhood development all conspire to do what society does: to instill deference to authority, suspicion of dissent, intolerance of idiosyncrasy, and an attitude of uniform compliance to accepted norms with the instinct to segregate and deride anyone who deviates from them. Wiseman captures every aspect of this process merely by caring to observe it. The ending is heartbreaking.
An essay on and analysis of High School, the second feature of Wiseman. The second in a series by Craig Keller on all-Wiseman.