Frederick Wiseman is Watching Us

If we are fortunate enough as a species to survive for another few thousand years, future generations who seek to understand who we really were will have an ally from our era. Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries for nearly 50 years now. His films are acutely observed, seemingly fly-on-the-wall documents on subjects such as American public universities, police departments, juvenile courts, high schools, boxing gyms, mental health hospitals and more (many) more.

I am always surprised when I run into someone who has never entered the world of Frederick Wiseman, or worse, those who find the films boring. For me, these are the most interesting docs ever made. For example, we see and hear a beat cop speaking and through his inflections, his euphemisms, his Freudian slips, his body language and in a million other ways, we understand something about the class system, about race, about ethnicity and about humanity itself.

In this poignant clip from HIGH SCHOOL – (poignant is really the word for it) a young teacher in a Philadelphia high school introduces poetic concepts to her students using a heartbreakingly naive Simon & Garfunkel song. The dewy idealism of the era could not be better illustrated. This is Wiseman’s art.