Titicut Follies (1967)

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Titicut Follies (1967) is a disturbing documentary film by Frederick Wiseman that focuses on the treatment of people with mental illnesses within the US health care system. It examines the treatment of inmates and patients at Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. It served as a call for reform of such institutions.

Synopsis

Frederick Wiseman made his documentary debut with this controversial 84-minute survey of conditions that existed during the mid 1960s at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Made in 1967, the film was subjected to a worldwide ban until 1992 because the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it was an invasion of inmate privacy.

Wiseman's camera is deceptively passive, deceptively silent. An understandable but inappropriate impression is that it merely sits back and watches. In Titicut Follies, patients are stripped and humiliated by boorish guards operating under questionable government policy, and Wiseman's camera keeps rolling. It enters a session between a doctor interviewing an inmate, who admits to molesting his own daughter. It takes us inside the morgue as Bridgewater's embalmer prepares a body for burial. Thus Wiseman's portrayal of the interactions between inmates, and guards, social workers and psychiatrists is both stark and graphic.

Richard Schickel Life stated, “The repulsive reality revealed in Titicut Follies forces us to contemplate our capacity for callousness.” The documentary was cited as the “Best Film Dealing with the Human Condition” at the 1967 Festival Dei Popoli (Florence) and also honored as the “Best Film” at the 1967 Mannheim International Filmweek. Robert Coles The New Republic wrote, "After a showing of Titicut Follies the mind does not dwell on the hospital’s ancient and even laughable physical plant, or its pitiable social atmosphere. What sticks, what really hurts is the sight of human life made cheap and betrayed."

The story behind the complicated legal issues raised by this film and the attempts to suppress it are detailed by Carolyn Anderson and Thomas W. Benson in their book, Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991).

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