American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Children play on a playground in Jackson Heights, Queens, running through sprinklers, batting at oversized chimes. Parents and sitters look on. On another street in the neighborhood, people march to protest a local restaurant that denied service to a transgender woman. In a mosque, men pray and listen to a sermon. Soccer fans gather outside an electronics store with a huge flatscreen TV in the front window, watching the game; their anxious faces are reflected in the glass. At a farmer's market, stall-keepers lay out their wares and residents inspect them: tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries, cherries. In a halal restaurant, a man butchers and plucks chickens and ducks. In a city councilman's office, a woman listens patiently on the phone to a constituent who has a problem and tries to let her know as politely as possible that she's not agreeing or disagreeing with her, she's just listening.
The sun rises on Jackson Heights. The sun sets. The sun rises and sets again. The city noise creates its own abstract collage of music and sound: salsa, marimba, jazz, soul, sirens, cell phone rings, alarms, the hiss of city buses braking and the whine of their acceleration, the rumble and rattle of elevated trains.
Too lyrical? Too abstract? Too bad. The film is the film. The film is "In Jackson Heights." It's hard to write about "In Jackson Heights" without sounding like you're trying to write poetry.
That's how precise Frederick Wiseman's new documentary is. That's how refined the 85-year old director's aesthetic has become.
As in nearly all of his previous movies—stretching back fifty years, astoundingly—Wiseman practices what journalists would call "pure reporting." Which means there's no hook, no obvious narrative spine—he's just decided to go somewhere and hang out and watch people and listen to them and then report on what he saw and heard. This movie is the report. It's a reporter's notebook of a movie. And it might be the lightest, loosest warmest nonfiction film he's made since "Boxing Gym," and maybe ever.