To celebrate the recent acquisition of newly struck prints of thirty-six films by Frederick Wiseman (b. 1930, Boston), The Museum of Modern Art presents a comprehensive retrospective of the director’s work. Featuring three to four films each month, this yearlong survey opens with Basic Training (1971), followed by a conversation with Wiseman and curator Josh Siegel, and spans his entire career, from Titicut Follies (1967) to his two most recent projects, La Danse—The Paris Opera Ballet (2009) and Boxing Gym (2010).
For more than four decades, Wiseman has used a lightweight 16mm camera and portable sound equipment to study human behavior in all its contradictory and unpredictable manifestations, particularly in institutional or regimented situations where authority creates an imbalance of power, or where democracy is at work. Like the great novelists of the nineteenth century, Wiseman combines epic narrative with intimate portraiture. His films comprise a grand panorama of American life (and more recently, the cultural life of Paris)—a kind of modern-day comédie humaine that, quite astonishingly, never loses its vitality or its currency. And though Wiseman approaches his subjects—doctors, ballet dancers, soldiers, students, welfare recipients, factory workers, fashion models, zookeepers, victims of domestic violence, Benedictine monks, the terminally ill—with a minimum of intrusion or influence, he brings a sensitive but trustworthy eye, a lawyer’s penetrating skepticism, and the dramatic impulses of a storyteller to arrive at what Eugène Ionesco, one of his favorite playwrights, called an “imaginative truth.” All films are directed, edited, and produced by Wiseman and from the U.S.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator, Department of Film.