Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

Frederick Wiseman, who persists in making some of the most sophisticated and effective documentaries in the United States even as he enters his 90s,* is well known for his films all being about “institutions”: he goes so a specific kind of place (a hospital, a museum, a cabaret), plops his camera down, sits behind it, […]

Two films ago, in 2015, the doggedly prolific documentarian Frederick Wiseman made In Jackson Heights, a study of one of the most ethnically diverse locations in the United States, the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens, in New York. He’s now gone all the way to the other side of the spectrum with Monrovia, Indiana, in […]

I don’t quite know how the career of Frederick Wiseman works – why 2015’s In Jackson Heights seemed to rate such a tiny speck of a release, and now his follow-up, Ex Libris – The New York Public Library is getting substantially more exposure. At least, more exposure by Frederick Wiseman standards, which is to […]

Another year, another multi-hour Frederick Wiseman epic: and I actually quite liked In Jackson Heights, so forgive me for sounding a bit dismissive. But it comes in a hair short of his last two films, lacking the precision of National Gallery‘s deceptively dense argument, or the sheer society-encompassing grandeur of At Berkeley, still the best […]

Last year’s superlative At Berkeley dropped me squarely into the “Frederick Wiseman, where have you been all my life?” phase of my cinephilia, and now National Gallery confirms it: this man’s documentaries are magnificent, essential, pure cinema. You can draw a line straight back from National Gallery‘s patient and inflectionless shots of people standing in […]

Fairly early in Frederick Wiseman’s documentary At Berkeley – “fairly” early in that the usual rules about duration in the context of a 4 hour and 4 minute movie need to be seriously re-evaluated – a UC-Berkeley undergraduate offers up the suggestion that in the past, college students were more motivated by having opportunities to […]