Titicut Follies: The Most Disturbing Movie You Will Never See
Wednesday/November/04 2009 Filed in: Philosophy / World View
The only US film ever banned for reasons other than sexuality or national security.
This 1967 documentary by Frederick Wiseman is violent but not in any traditional way.
Its focus is -- or was -- the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Massachusetts. Largely as an outcome of this production, within 20 years, this facility and many others like it were shuttered.
Why? Watching the film it becomes quickly evident that the institution was as dysfunctional as the inmates within it. No, make that more dysfunctional.
Strike Up the Band
The title of the film refers to an unintentionally surreal talent show called the Titicut Follies in which inmates were forced to participate. The film begins with a scene with inmates singing a zombie-like rendition of "Strike Up The Band." (Titicut is a Wampanoag word for the Taunton River in Massachusetts.)
The Stuff of Nightmares
What happens to these inmates at the bullying of their keepers is something that most Americans would believe could only happen somewhere else, and certainly not in a nation which, within 24 months of the film's release, would put a man on the Moon.
The View from the Inside
Filmmaker Wiseman doesn't allow you to be merely an observer of what happens in Bridgewater. He grabs you by the neck, thrusts you inside and slams the cell door. You're not so much watching the inmates as you are becoming one of them.
36 minutes into the film an inmate pleads his case for release.
He's saying exactly what you would be saying to the prison psychologist if you were trying to get out.
Watching this film you come to realize that if you found yourself in this institution there would be no way that you would be able to convince your keepers that you didn't belong there.
Anything and everything you said or did would be filtered through the institution's belief that you were insane.
And frighteningly, after a few months , weeks or even days of living under these conditions you might indeed become just that.
It is not our point that keepers within this institution were cruel and inhumane but rather that absolutely corrupt systems corrupt absolutely.
Banned in Boston
With the claim that this film was an invasion of inmate privacy, the state of Massachusetts, in 1968, banned it from being shown to the general public and ordered copies of the film destroyed.
More likely, however, state officials feared the film was a stinging indictment of their own sanctioning of and involvement in a social policy gone horribly wrong.
After years of appeals, a Superior Court Judge reversed the state ruling in 1991 and the film was again made available to the public.
Health care reform? You'll find points here to either rally for it or rail against.
The pro-reform advocates can say that we need more and better institutions to take care of people disadvantaged in this way. The anti-reform advocates can say that this is what happens when the state is relied upon to take care of the unfortunate.
There are no answers to these questions in this documentary. There is no narration, commentary nor articulated point of view. The skillful editing, however, makes a powerful and unforgettable statement.
Titicut Follies is raw in every sense of the word.
You can watch this film for free in its 84-minute entirety at various places on the web, including EGTV or via an embedded link right here at Apocalypzia but we guess that you won't. Titicut Follies -- without physical torture, blood or gore -- is a brutal assault on the senses.
We watched the film again preparing this post and we're still reeling from the experience.