Frederick Wiseman’s movies are like capsules that we should send to the space, as a proof of what is like to live in the Western world nowadays, fiction filters excluded.
Many movies tell fake stories which tell true things. Wiseman’s documentaries, while showing real things, try to explain what we have become as a species, what we are able to do, build, think and organize, all together. His crazy project seems to have the will to show human beings at work, their nonsense mission and to use cinema in order to focus on huge and evasive things like institutions, cities or whole populations. To do that, obviously, he looks for the opposite to the total, as to say the detail (narrow but very different frames, a restricted time and a limited place). He has no other possibility, but the way in which he assembles every single part is a symphony of minimalist poetry. Maybe Wiseman would get angry if you called him poet, because his cinema avoids lyric poetry, its expressions and rhetoric, actually it is no-frills. At the same time, such an exhibition of pure humanity, even without “style”, is what we call poetry.
This absence of poetry gives the impression that there’s no one behind the camera, as if the author had placed it and gone away; every scene is shot with elegance and invisibility and, moreover, with an attitude that shows Wiseman’s disregard for common people, his subjects, dedicated to their activities, who have no interest for the camera. Not only, Wiseman is not a fly on the wall: he does not insists on an impossible dispassion about the facts, he’s as invisible in the shooting as heavy he is in the editing.
In Jackson Heights is, as always, the result of an enormous work of editing of what is diverse. There’s obviously a file rouge, New York area is in the title, its community, which is extraordinarily tolerant e multicultural, but the single paintings are so different but, during the movie, they create an harmony in the everyday routine, and this never tires, not even in the 190 minutes. The banality has never been so meaningful.
And if you look closer, the single scenes live in the light of an invisible editing, which is the result of choices (what to keep, what to reject, which is the right point to shoot), in order to make what usually would be boring, a significant document. Wiseman has an agenda of his own and knows his aims, he doesn’t want to prove any thesis, but has clear ideas about how to link together what he chose between thousands people, events and places. For this reason, in every movie shot by Wiseman, the sense is elusive yet very clear, just like the combination of a crowd whose movements are not definite, but whose direction and attitude are totally clear.
By Gabriele Niola
Translation by Bianca Baroni
In collaboration with: Badtaste.it