June 20, 1988 12:00 PM

PBS (Fri., June 17, 9 p.m. ET)


Frederick Wiseman started making documentaries in 1967, and it doesn’t look as if he’s changed his ways much since. I watched this, the first of his four films made at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (the others air on June 18, 24 and 25 at 9 p.m.), and then had to shake the dust off my skull. That’s dull. Wiseman comes from an old school of filmmaking that still believes the camera is a newfangled wonder and that anything the lens takes in immediately takes on profound significance. This is the school of cinema verité. This is Hooey U. Oh, yes, there are touching moments in this film, but it would take a fool with his lens cap on to miss such scenes: an excited little girl walking with a cane for the first time or an earnest little boy learning to write in Braille. The film comes to TV exactly two hours and 15 minutes long so we can see uninterrupted, unending scenes of cars going by and then of a train going by. I wanted to go bye too but had to keep watching, becoming more irritated with every long minute. It is a lazy conceit to act as if each inch of film were too golden to edit. It is a lie to make believe that we are seeing real life unaffected by the presence of a camera. It is condescension to treat the audience as if it were still so unsophisticated about filmmaking. Heck, we own our own newfangled cameras now; last year, 1.6 million Americans bought video camcorders—and 1.5 million of them probably are making better films than this.

You May Like