Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 7:47 pm 
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Guy Lodge's Variety review leads off, "Frederick Wiseman’s Mammoth Boston Doc Shows Anti-Trump Politics in Practice."

The people who work for the city work for you"

"...My view is that these films are biased, prejudiced, condensed, compressed but fair. I think what I do is make movies that are not accurate in any objective sense, but accurate in the sense that I think they're a fair account of the experience I've had in making the movie."

First of all: Frederick Wiseman does not know boredom. Frederick Wiseman is interested in everything. Frederick Wiseman thinks we are interested too. Normally the "city hall" of an American city includes primarily the mayor's office and the city council, the city government. Last time in Monrovia, Indiana, Wiseman looked at a little town in the Midwest. Now he looks at one of America's great cities, Boston, Massachusetts, the biggest city in New England, one of the oldest large cities. It's also a city of racial and sectarian conflict, of warring ethnicities.

But Wiseman isn't looking at problems. He looks at institutions. Here, "City Hall" seems to encompass the whole city. And indeed in a liberal government the city government has a hand in, and responsibility toward, every part of that city. But this is also very largely a portrait of Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston. He's everything that the President in Washington today (whom he refers to, but will not name) is not.

As we learn, Mayor Walsh is the son of Irish immigrants, and he is in recovery from alcoholism. He is a classic liberal with natural sympathy for immigrants, for people of color and other minorities, who boasts that during his five years in office, unemployment has sunk to 2%, and Boston has been named the easiest city in the country to get a job. He is an impressive individual. This film is like an advertisement for Marty Walsh. If he ran for President of the United States, I'd vote for him.

Did this film need to be four and a half hours long? I don't know. At times if you're paying attention to its many scenes - separated, as Wiseman had often done before, by montages of still shots of the city - you may wonder why some of them were included. People pouring over artifacts? A dog being examined by a vet? A school planning meeting? The kitchen of a man with an infestation of rats?

But we can say this film shows the wide reach of Boston's city government. Its responsibilities are myriad, and the sweep of the scenes pays homage to the range of Marty Walsh's caring and interest. He, like Wiseman, seems never to be bored. It particularly fascinated me that he took a Marine veterans' meeting as the opportunity to tell about his former alcohol problem. In another scene already, about arts and recovery, it seemed, an articulate young man has said that recovery is all about stories. It's true. So here, Mayor Walsh tells the story of his alcoholism, suggesting that what an old lady says they used to call "shell shock" and now is called PTSD, is something that also requires the healing effect of telling your story to others.

As for the length, think of it as a way of conveying what it's like to sit through a day in any city hall, a day of meetings. The endless talk. Some of it, people telling their stories, which may heal them and us. Wiseman teaches us to be patient and listen, to the ordinary talk and everyday stories that are part of a comprehensive sympathy.

City Hall, 272 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2020 (Fair Play Cinema Award - Special Mention) and is scheduled for Toronto, Hamburg, New York and Camden International (Maine), also in Sept. Screened online for this review on its virtual release date in the NYFF, Sept. 25, 2020. Metascore 89%.

Opens Friday, November 13, 2020
in the Roxie Virtual Cinema.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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