‘In Jackson Heights’
Director: Frederick Wiseman
4 (out of 5) Globes
A new Frederick Wiseman non-fiction film — he hates the word “documentary” — means once again explaining who Frederick Wiseman is and what he does. Since 1967’s “Titicut Follies,” at nearly one film a year, he’s headed into a different place, usually some kind of institution or a community. He films for a month or so, merely hanging back and observing and learning; he finds the movie over a lengthy, introspective editing process; then he heads back out for more. He’s currently 85 and “In Jackson Heights,” which drops in on the Queens neighborhood, is his third film in three years that pushes over the three-hour mark, one of them (“At Berkeley”) rounding out at four. It’s a good life.
Wiseman has a firm structure in place, and each film tends to concern itself with the same vague obsessions. “In Jackson Heights,” his 40th-or-so film, is another look at how a place works — how practicalities (money, jobs, routine) mesh with the messier parts of life (personalities, the inhumanity of bureaucracy, the resistance to the new). Every Wiseman staple is in place. He never intrudes upon his subjects, and certainly never into his frames. There are no protagonists and people weave in and out of his films, sometimes returning, sometimes only to be seen once. He doesn’t use narration or onscreen text, not even to identify someone of note, or the occasional flat-out celebrity. With exceptions (namely his first few films, which tended to be more activist in nature), there are no single, overarching themes or arguments, and any ideas you have to glean by intuiting them through what has been meticulously arranged on screen. If something is in a Wiseman film, even a long rambling speech at a town hall meeting, it’s there for a reason. He’s just not going to come out and tell you why.