In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_pride_ver2

Pride

Takes a formulaic approach but is ultimately very effective in its retelling of the fundraising activities of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Would make…

Thumb_boxtrolls_ver13

The Boxtrolls

"The Boxtrolls" is a beautiful example of the potential in LAIKA's stop-motion approach, and the images onscreen are tactile and layered. But, as always, it's…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

Titicut Follies

  |  

Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies" was filmed in 1966 at the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Mass. It was shown at the 1967 New York Film Festival, had two limited runs in New York and -- aside from a few screenings before film societies -- has had no other distribution. This is its first commercial booking outside New York.

It is not hard to understand why this is the case. "Titicut Follies" is one of the most despairing documentaries I have ever seen; more immediate than fiction because these people are real; more savage than satire because it seems to be neutral.

We are literally taken into a madhouse. Inmates of varying degrees of mental illness are treated with the same casual inhumanity. There is an old man named Jim who is constantly taunted by the guards, whose uniforms are disturbingly similar to a policeman's. While he is being shaved with fast, painful strokes by the barber, the guards needle him: "Why's your room so filthy, Jim? What's that you said, Jim?" They are bullies who have their victim pinned and helpless.

When Jim is returned to his room, it is an absolutely empty cell. And Jim is naked. It appears that the inmates are deprived of clothing much of the time because that is cheaper and makes security easier. It is not explained how naked confinement in a barren cell cures mental illness and indeed this hospital seems to come from the Middle Ages.

Massachusetts legislators have tried for two years to suppress Wiseman's film. They say it invades the privacy of the inmates, and perhaps they have a point. It is hard to imagine more humiliating and pathetic scenes, and perhaps they should not be shown for profit or offered to the public.

But perhaps they should, even though "Titicut Follies" will dismay and disgust many of those who see it. Few of us have the slightest idea of conditions in the nation's mental prison-hospitals.

The film is not of high technical quality. It was shot with available sound and light under difficult conditions. But its message penetrates all the same. One "paranoid" patient, told he has shown no improvement, argues that the prison is making him worse, not better. This sounds like the simple truth, and the film leaves us with the impression that institutions like Bridgewater are causing mental illness, not curing it.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Why my video essay about "All that Jazz" is not on the Criterion blu-ray

Bob Fosse's masterpiece "All That Jazz" jumps back and forth through the past and the present, and through memory and...

The Unloved, Part Ten: "The Village"

Part ten in Scout Tafoya's The Unloved series tackles "The Village."

Ebert's Most Hated

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sometimes, Roger Ebert is exposed to bad movies. When that happens, it is his duty -- if not necessari...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus