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Arts and Entertainment

Daily Blarrrgh: Fred Wiseman Films Finally Coming to DVD

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Aging but still prolific filmmaker Fred Wiseman, who is as well known for his unflinching, verité documentaries as he is for his unwillingness to release them on home video, will finally make his films available on DVD.

Buried in the second-to-last paragraph of a ho-hum article about Wiseman's latest film in yesterday's New York Times the author notes that although plans are not yet finalized, "At some point in the fall [Wiseman's] Web site, zipporah.com, will start selling all his old work to the public on DVD, going back to the groundbreaking "Titicut Follies" (1967), about horrific conditions inside a prison for the criminally insane."

Talk about burying the lead! Wiseman's early films like Titicut Follies, Model and High School are considered groundbreaking. But Wiseman is also notorious for making these films as difficult as possible to access. After they debut on PBS, that's the last place you're likely to see them. Connoisseurs of his work often tape the PBS airings and trade bootleg copies.

The fact that these films are being released on DVD is big news! Yet this info is buried at the end of the article, and the author never asks Wiseman why he's waited so long to make his movies available on some home video format. All of this makes it even more comical when Wiseman complains in the article about the lack of theatrical distribution for his work. Here's a thought: Maybe if he'd been releasing his movies on home video all along, he would have built a wider audience for his work instead of relegating his films to a miniscule cadre of documentary enthusiasts and aging PBS loyalists.

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In a review that ran three days before the profile of Wiseman, Virginia Hefernan offers a less worshipful take on Wiseman while still trying to be equivocal about his work. She refers to his latest film a 3 1/2 hour documentary about the Idaho State Legislature, as "a two-part, billion-minute program" and "another long, yawning, integrity-jammed Wiseman haul." She also says, "Mr. Wiseman, let's say, is trigger-unhappy. His films are long, and they often look like tape simply rolling, C-Span-style. But even security cams catch good stuff from time to time." And then, "the movie begins to feel like being in a giant, well-organized meeting that never ends." Sounds like a lighthearted romp.