6 August 2018 | lor_
Infomative and well-directed (within the limitations of Wiseman's self-imposed rules)
I've been following Fred Wiseman's career since 1966, when I was in college at MIT, where he previewed his yet to be released debut movie "Titicut Follies". I've watched many of his subsequent works, including the hard to sit through (in an uncomfortable Alice Tully Hall screening) 5-hour "Hospital", and on the occasion of his look at NY's venerable library system I have some structural matters to discuss.
Wiseman differs from most documentary directors in refusing to use voice-over narration, or on-screen commentary, or even any superimposed identifiers to show the identity of players on screen. This is a defect of "Ex Libris", though he gets all the brownie points imaginable for purity of his approach. Clarity, however, is sacrificed.
Instead, it is both editing and the selection of which material (I'm sure he accumulated many hours of suitable footage to sift through here) to use that gives Wiseman his style. The tedium is usually worth the wait in terms of learning something.
This reminds me of Cinema's worst self-imposed limitation movement of all time, the stupid (and hopefully dead as a door nail) Dogme manifesto of a couple of decades back. In the same search for some phony notion of purity, Lars von Trier and other misguided advocates eschewed all sorts of things like artificial light, special effects and many camera techniques - a horrible experiment. Cinema should be about using and discovering whatever will enhance the finished film, not tying one up in knots to adhere to some regimented akin to Puritanical belief.
Simlarly, the Nouvelle Vague directors in France at the end of the 1950s created a still influential revolution cinema, but also through out plenty of "babies with the bath water" in the process. Besides disparaging the classic work of the '30s and '40s romantic greats like Autant-Lara, Carne, Delannoy and Prevert, led by Godard they abandoned many a basic element like reverse-shot set-ups and cutting that are fundamental to quality cinema. Watching the swish-pans from face to face that Godard & his followers would use instead of tried-and-true reverse shots was a painful experience for me (akin to sarcastic extreme camera moves in close-up coverage of a ping pong or tennis match) to endure. Net result is many a brilliant French movie made during the '40s left unknown to a couple of generations of film buffs thanks to the New Wave emphasis (especially in film schools), and so many current hacks, even lauded ones, unaware how to edit properly - e.g., the frequent and jarring cutting across the center line that folks untrained in proper reverse shot procedure commit regularly. (Hint: watch the heads jumping back and forth on screen during a simple conversation in many a bad TV show or indie feature.)