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ScoScoop | January 22, 2018

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MFA Student to Present at National Conference

MFA Student to Present at National Conference

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Paul Mordt, a graduate student in the MFA Documentary Film Studies and Production program at The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, will present his paper at the upcoming national conference of the Popular Culture Association, to be held in New Orleans April 1-4.

Mordt’s paper, “Titicut Follies — Turning the Camera on the Surveillance State and The Uncanny,” grew out of an essay he wrote for the RTVF-231 course taught by Professor Rodney Hill.

Below, is an abstract of the piece:

Frederick Wiseman’s landmark documentary Titicut Follies paired two remarkable filmmakers, Wiseman and cinematographer John Marshall, to record the events transpiring at Massachusetts’ Bridgewater State Hospital during the spring of 1966. The two documentarians infused into Titicut Follies numerous qualities which resulted in the film’s being banned from ‘general distribution’ (for reasons other than ‘obscenity, immorality or national security’) for decades following its creation.

While the court ordered justification for the ban generally centered on patient rights and/or lack of permissions from depicted Titicut’s denizens, I submit that the documentary’s inherent qualities, a direct result of the prodigious talents of the filmmakers, offended the sensibilities of many viewers, contributing greatly to the film’s negative reputation.

This paper proposes that certain elements of Titicut Follies, notably sequences conjuring elements of what Sigmund Freud termed the uncanny, and carefully selected scenes with recombinant editing techniques, forced the hand of the court against the film, as these qualities contributed to an overly surreal depiction of Bridgewater. In addition, this film heavily editorialized against the then governor of Massachusetts, John Volpe, who may have developed a strong bias against Wiseman’s film for personal reasons.

In summation, Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies harnessed the talents of two exceptional men, who created a vision of hell with the tools of their modern surveillance state. The film represents an apex in its unhindered examination of the prison system. Few other films are likely to approach its documentary truth again.

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