Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Nov 26 1997
Comments
High School
Every year for the past 30, it seems, documentarian Fred Wiseman has flung another deceptively shapeless film profile of one major institution or another onto the PBS screen, where it has stuck like taffy for three hours one night and then disappeared, seemingly forever. (His most noted film was perhaps his first: Titicut Follies, a searing look at a Massachusetts mental institution.) Sans narrator, sans viewpoint characters, later Wiseman films make little of the impression on today's viewers that zippier documentaries like Hoop Dreams, Crumb, or Errol Morris' gentle freak shows do. The last of the hair shirt cinema verite filmmakers of the 1960s, Wiseman truly believes, like Godard did at the time, that photography is truth and that cinema is "the truth 24 times a second." He believes as well that he and his camera crew can melt into the walls for the six or so months they take to shoot one of their works. Mounting skepticism about the revealed truths of photography or the concept that camera crews can be truly invisible has apparently made no impression on him. In retrospect, we can see how Wiseman guides our reactions through parallel editing of the mass of material he compiles: The teachers and administrators in the white, working-class school in the Wiseman classic screening at the Outdoor Cinema Tuesday, High School (1968), all look like conformist zombies, and the kids who buy into their rhetoric are their victims, not just because the raw material is there but because Wiseman has shaped it to get that point across. Everything you hated about high school is caught by Wiseman's camera -- the gray walls, the petty tyranny, the dreary routines that made education a chore and not a joy -- yet one suspects that someone else editing the same miles of footage might have found a very different picture. Surely someone cared: Here, the voice of tolerance is represented by the English teacher trying to inspire students with the poetry of Paul Simon, and she looks like an idiot.

-- Gregg Rickman

High School screens Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. at the Outdoor Cinema of the El Rio Bar, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez). There's a requested donation of $5; call 282-3325.

About The Author

Gregg Rickman

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"