Wiseman, Frederick

Wiseman, Frederick,

1930–, American documentary filmmaker, b. Boston, grad. Williams College (B.A., 1951), Yale Law School (LL.B., 1954). Wiseman practiced and taught law for about a decade, but his real interests lay elsewhere. His first film, Titicut Follies (1967), is a harrowingly realistic look at a Massachusetts state hospital for the criminally insane. With this work, he became known as a cinéma véritécinéma vérité,
a style of filmmaking that attempts to convey candid realism. Often employing lightweight, hand-held cameras and sound equipment, it shows people in everyday situations and uses authentic dialogue, naturalness of action, and a minimum of
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 master possessed of keen socio-psychological insights and a fine sense of moral outrage. Many of his subsequent films examine various American institutions through the portrayal of a single example: High School (1968), Hospital (1970), Juvenile Court (1973), Welfare (1975), State Legislature (2007), At Berkeley (2013), and City Hall (2020). Other films—Model (1980), The Store (1983), Central Park (1990), Ballet (1995), Belfast, Maine (1999), La Danse (2009), Boxing Gym (2010), Crazy Horse (2011), In Jackson Heights (2015), and Ex Libris (2017), about the New York Public Library—explore other sorts of people and places, some of them centering on the beauty and grace of the human body. In three mid-1980s works Wiseman examined the world of the physically challenged. He is usually the producer-director and sometimes a writer, editor, or actor for his many films, which are mostly black and white and eschew editorialization or other narration and musical soundtracks. He has also occasionally made fictional works: The Stunt Man (1980), Seraphita's Diary (1982), and The Last Letter (2002). In 2016 he received an honorary Academy Award.


See studies by T. R. Atkins, ed. (1976), T. W. Benson and C. Anderson (1989, rev. ed. 2002), B. K. Grant (1992), and A. Delbanco et al. (2010).

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Wiseman, Frederick

(1930–  ) documentary filmmaker; born in Boston, Mass. After teaching law, he turned to making his own distinctive kind of documentaries, starting with Titicut Follies (1967) and continuing through a long series that focused on American institutions, such as Model (1980), and then increasingly on broader experiences, as in Near Death (1989). The hallmark of a Wiseman documentary is its apparently nonintrusive ability simply to record on film and in sound the minutiae of the subject and to leave all interpretation to the viewer. He formed his own film company and in later years accepted commissions from television companies and other organizations.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.