Who presses the button? To show those at the controls of America’s nuclear arsenal, famed filmmaker Frederick Wiseman made this 1987 documentary at the 4315th Training Squadron of the Strategic Air Command at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Air Force officers are shown in training to man the Launch Control Centers for the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The film follows trainees through various stages of this training, to graduation and assignments as Launch Control Center staffers. In addition to discussions on the moral and military issues of nuclear war, the film features plans against terrorist attacks; emergency procedures; tutorial sessions; codes and communications; staff meetings; and the arming and targeting of missiles. The film introduces the viewer to the sincere, intelligent, well-trained men and women who are trusted with the responsibility for methodically and calmly carrying forth any orders they receive for the destruction of civilization. Continue reading
Review (Russell Edwards, Variety)
Familiarity with the first film is in no way a requisite for appreciation of what Wiseman does here. Foregoing traditional docu props of voiceover narration and informative subtitles as he first did in Titicut Follies (1967), Wiseman gets astounding mileage as the camera observes the bureaucratic action in a series of Florida courts.
Docu begins with a police response to a 911 call. A woman and her b.f. are being briefed by officers on their rights, immediate and long term consequences, and what “domestic violence” entails; latter is particularly handy for auds unfamiliar with Florida State laws. Continue reading
THE STORE is a film about the main Neiman-Marcus store and corporate headquarters in Dallas. The sequences in the film include the selection, presentation, marketing, pricing, advertising and selling of a vast array of consumer products including designer clothes and furs, jewelry, perfumes, shoes, electronic products, sportswear, china and porcelain and many other goods. The internal management and organizational aspects of a large corporation are shown, i.e., sales meetings, development of marketing and advertising strategies, training, personnel practices and sales techniques. Continue reading
A strong piece of documentary work by the great Frederick Wiseman.
Like all wiseman documentaries it has no narration, it just lets the subject speak for itself.
Near death is part of a series of documentaries by Wiseman depicting what Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman would call sometime afterwards “total institutions”. Institutions such as schools (“High School), prisons, mental institutions (Titcut Follies) and of course, hospitals, especially the intensive care units.
Whereas the previous works by Wiseman showed these institution’s and the problems that made them impossible to function properly, in “Near Death” it shows an institution that no matter what is impossible to function properly due to the very nature of its work. In one part a staff member asks
“are we trying to save these people or are we just managing their deaths?”
AN INJURY TO ONE provides a corrective—and absolutely compelling—glimpse of a particularly volatile moment in early 20th century American labor history: the rise and fall of Butte, Montana. Specifically, it chronicles the mysterious death of Wobbly organizer Frank Little, a story whose grisly details have taken on a legendary status in the state. Much of the extant evidence is inscribed upon the landscape of Butte and its surroundings. Thus, a connection is drawn between the unsolved murder of Little, and the attempted murder of the town itself.
Butte’s history was entirely shaped by its exploitation by the Anaconda Mining Company, which, at the height of WWI, produced ten percent of the world’s copper from the town’s depths. War profiteering and the company’s extreme indifference to the safety of its employees (mortality rates in the mines were higher than in the trenches of Europe) led to Little’s arrival. “The agitator” found in the desperate, agonized miners overwhelming support for his ideas, which included the abolishment of the wage system and the establishment of a socialist commonwealth. Continue reading
1990-1991: “Face Value” Awarded the Dutch Press Prize, Netherlands
Rejecting linear narrative storytelling, the director offers us an epic on humanity and cultural diversity in Europe through a multitude of appearances, a cartography of faces, the reflection of an imaginary Europe made up of London, Marseille, Prague and the Netherlands.
“Everything revolves around faces and the act of looking: the desire to show oneself, the fear of being seen, the impossibility of seeing oneself, the fear and desire of seeing the other. And, as well, within this theme of looking and seeing, the uncertain struggle for identity, the ferocious struggle for territory, the sweeping movements of love and death” (JVDK) Continue reading
New York, Geneva, Hong Kong and Amsterdam are major hubs of the world’s economy. Great amounts of money circulate there, and whereas poverty is ubiquitous in the streets of New York, Geneva carefully protects its wealth behind impeccable facades.
No one is unaffected by the myth of the all-powerful Dollar: the under-privileged struggle to survive talking about their unattainable dreams, while businessmen, from the safe distance of their offices, lay down the tenets of their financial theories. Continue reading