Frederick Wiseman

Barry Keith Grant

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Frederick Wiseman

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A major figure in American documentary cinema, Frederick Wiseman (b. 1930) began making his extraordinary series of films during the Direct Cinema movement of the 1960s. From the beginning of his impressive and prolific forty-year career, Wiseman developed a distinctive style and approach that set his work apart from that of his contemporaries. Wiseman’s films focus on institutions of various kinds, ranging from those concentrated within individual buildings (High School, 1968) to those international in scope (Sinai Field Mission, 1978), from institutions set up and maintained by government (Juvenile Court, 1973, Public Housing, 1997) to those less tangible ones organized by principles of ideology and culture (Canal Zone, 1977, Model, 1980). Many of his films ferret out the gaps between institutional theory and practice, demonstrating the shaping force of institutions themselves, which dictate to, as much as they serve, both clients and administrators. Wiseman is also interested in these institutions as social microcosms and as interwoven parts of the larger social fabric, and through a variety of stylistic techniques he encourages a reading of each institution as a synecdoche of American society generally. More dialectical than didactic, Wiseman’s films assume a spectator attentive to film form. Though at first glance his films may seem to resemble the fly-on-the-wall approach of Direct Cinema, they often rely more heavily on elements of cinematic style such as editing and framing to express a consistent vision of how institutions operate.

Article.  11745 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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