Sponsored byInstitute for the HumanitiesSimon Fraser University
Frederick Wiseman and Titicut Follies

Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman has made 34 documentary films in his career. His most recent work, State Legislature, was broadcast on PBS in June 2007. Mr. Wiseman also completed La Dernière Lettre, a fiction film which debuted to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. The story of a Russian Jewish doctor caught in a small city in the Ukraine as it is overtaken by the Germans, it is her recounting of her life and her experiences in a final letter to her son. Titicut Follies, made in 1967 and banned for nearly 25 years, gave audiences a shocking look inside an asylum for the criminally insane. Wiseman’s other films have shown the inner workings of society’s institutions, from High School to Basic Training, Hospital, Public Housing, and Welfare. Mr. Wiseman has also directed for the theater, including a North American Tour of La Dernière Lettre in 2001, as well as productions at the American Repertory Theatre and the New York Theatre Workshop. His work in film has earned him three Emmy Awards, a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, and the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award from Human Rights Watch. He was awarded the Dan David Prize in 2003. He was also the third director ever to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, sharing company with Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese.

Lawyer, man of culture, and moralist, Mr. Wiseman has spent more than 30 years analyzing American culture and institutions. His unusual work consists of subtle observations and questioning, aiming toward a greater understanding of the human condition. Producing roughly one film per year, Frederick Wiseman has created a corpus of work chronicling the story of the Western world. His films depict the conformity, inequality, and both recognized and unacknowledged social rigidness of American society while also providing an incisive perspective on democracy.

Titicut Follies

Titicut Follies, released in 1967, is a stark and graphic portrayal of the conditions that existed at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Titcut Follies documents the various ways the inmates are treated by the guards, social workers and psychiatrists.

“It is a stark film and the most realistic and honest statement that I have seen on the mental hospital.”
— Morris S. Schwartz, Gryzmish Professor of Human Relations, Brandeis University

Titcut Follies is a documentary film that tells you more than you could possibly want to know — but no more than you should know — about life behind the walls of one of those institutions where we file and forget the criminal insane… A society’s treatment of the least of its citizens — and surely these are the least of ours — is perhaps the best measure of its civilization. The repulsive reality revealed in Titcut Follies forces us to contemplate our capacity for callousness.”
— Richard Schickel, Life

“After a showing of Titcut Follies the mind does not dwell on the hospital’s ancient and even laughable physical plant, or its pitiable social atmosphere. What sticks, what really hurts is the sight of human life made cheap and betrayed. We see men needlessly stripped bare, insulted, herded about callously, mocked, taunted. We see them ignored or locked interminably in cells. We hear the craziness in the air, the sudden outbursts, the quieter but stronger undertow of irrational noise that any doctor who has worked under such circumstances can only take for so long. But much more significantly, we see the ‘professionals’, the doctors and workers who hold the fort in the Bridgewaters of this nation, and they are all over...Titcut Follies is a brilliant work of art.”
— Robert Coles, The New Republic

Film stills

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Photo © 1967 Bridgewater Film Company Photo © 1967 Bridgewater Film Company Photo © 1967 Bridgewater Film Company

Photos ©1967 Bridgewater Film Company

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