Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Enoch Pratt: Best Cinema Verite Secret


I work in the Audio-Visual department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Central Branch, and was surprised today to see that we had a framed award for "Best Cinema Verite Secret" from the Baltimore City Paper. The secret is our amazing collection of films by documentarian legend Frederick Wiseman (shown here), titles too expensive (starting at $400 per film) for most institutions or commercial video retailers to carry. Following is the text accompanying that award, taken from the September 21, 2005 "Best of Baltimore" issue of the City Paper:

Best Cinéma Vérité Secret
Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Frederick Wiseman collection
400 Cathedral St., (410) 396-4616, website

Film geeks love to jock the work of documentary pioneers the Maysles Brothers, especially the shudderingly bleak Salesman and the gleefully grotesque Grey Gardens. But while less of a household name, documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s astonishing body of work has consistently delivered dozens of movies in a similar vein and of the same very high caliber. Unfortunately for the average consumer—and perhaps for the director’s own reputation—Wiseman controls his own catalog and sells his titles at exorbitant prices (often several hundred dollars a pop per VHS cassette), designed to keep all but serious organizations (film schools, libraries) away. Which means you won’t be able to grab the likes of 1967’s Titicut Follies—which exposed brutal conditions at a mental-health facility, and culminates in a vaudevillian variety show co-performed by employees and patients of that same facility—from Video Americain over the weekend, let alone Blockbuster or Netflix. Thankfully, the Enoch Pratt has plopped down a good chunk of change on Wiseman’s work over the years, allowing us to sample seminal late-’60s-to-mid-’70s works such as High School, Hospital, and Law and Order, as well as 1989’s six-hour-long Near Death. All of these films, freed from narration, on-screen text, incidental music, and talking heads, make us feel like all-seeing eyes, guided by Wiseman’s camera work and cutting through troubled institutions during even-more-troubled times. Trust us, once you’ve worked your way through the Pratt’s holdings, you’ll be considering sending Wiseman a few hundred bills for the ones the Pratt doesn’t own, such as Meat—or at least pestering the Pratt’s A/V guys and gals to order them. Hint, hint.


Hint taken! And thanks to whoever the secret verite-loving City Paper reviewer is. I have a hunch it was one of those Video Americain guys - Scott, Eric, Michael, or Scott Wallace Brown - because the Wiseman tapes are the only videos those completists don't have (and believe me, it's pretty tough to top Video Americain in any category!). Was it you Eric Allen Hatch? If so, thanks!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Cougar said...

It wasn't SWB... he's not on CP's payroll. I'm going with Hatch on this one.

I'll bet the Wiseman films barely circulate. Can't you get data on who's checked them out?

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Bridal Gowns said...

While there is a certain procedure at the civil and the religious ceremony, so you basically just the words "Yes, I do."

4:00 AM  

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