• Gareth Crook

Titicut Follies (1967) - 7/10

Titicut Follies is the sort of film that film students study. A documentary from Frederick Wiseman about a Massachusetts correction facility, an institution for the criminally insane or madhouse as it was probably phrased in 1967. On the surface, it’s a loose fly on the wall document. A stark, cold and pretty shocking depiction in grainy black and white. These men don’t feel like willing participants, but they’ve bigger issues than worrying about than the camera. There’s an awful lot in here, not least the uncaring treatment these men receive, the largely oppressive unsympathetic staff. It’s humanity laid bare, a window into a hopeless world. I’m not sure what it’s shot on, but the camera is remarkably agile. It could be argued that with such access to such an interesting and usually hidden world as this, Wiseman really couldn’t go wrong. In charge of editing too though, he crafts a compelling 90 minutes. Introducing us to life from the beginning of incarceration, those first desperate moments to the routines imposed and most importantly the voices of these men, some of whom seem guilty of very little, other than being mentally ill or having ideas that don’t ring true with those who’ve locked them up. It’s not an easy watch. The inmates often left naked in the cells, belittled and berated. The only solutions offered being to force feed and dose them up. I’ve no idea how much footage Wiseman had to work with, but there’s a sense that we’re seeing all the usable shots, he’s not hiding anything. I’m sure there’s plenty more of course, but what Wiseman chose to show was controversial enough, seeing the film banned in the US for many years. Still though, the way it’s assembled tells the story of Bridgewater State Prison without any need for talking heads or additional narrative, leaving it feeling brutally honest. It’s all in the moment and it’s darkly fascinating. 7/10