The great documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s State Legislature plays tonight on OPB at 9 PM. It will replay at 2 AM on June 22. Wiseman doesn’t like to hurry, he typically makes about one film each year – this one is fairly short for his work at 217 minutes.

From jaw droppers like 1967’s Titicut Follies and Domestic Violence, to essays of civic wonder like Central Park, Near Death, and The Store, Wiseman has spent his life considering one question – how do large organizations make decisions?

Titicut Follies remains the only film officially banned for public showing in the US, shows the Bridgewater State Hospital, a prison for people with mental illnesses and their keepers. You can see it in some graduate programs (in courses with time to burn + tenured profs) or find a bootleg copy. I have one and will send you a copy if you are currently in a state hospital (working or living).

State Legislature considers the Idaho legislature. It “shows the day-to-day activities of the Idaho Legislature, including committee meetings, debates of the House and Senate, informal discussions, meetings with lobbyists, constituents, the public and the press. The workings of a democratic government are not of interest solely to Americans, but, because so many countries in the world are currently trying to adopt a democratic form of government, the issues presented have relevance on a global scale. The film is an example of the achievements, values, constraints and limitations of the democratic process.”

The participants in Wiseman’s films often look, in retrospect, to be insane, cavalier, ignorant, dangerous. We’re reminded of Foucault’s point that institutions are created to discipline and punish. So why would gatekeepers let Wiseman have the most intimate of access?

I would bet most – if not all – would employ a defense to make Foucault (and other postmodernists) squirm – “we were doing our very best.”

Making Sausage: Legislature documentary on Idaho Public Television worth the length – Boise Weekly

Doing the People’s Business, in All Its Somnolent Glory – NY Times

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