titicut follies

ArtsWatch Weekly: a Will and a way

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The first thing we do, let’s count all the layers. He’s been updated, squeezed down, rethought, rewritten, cleaned up, dirtied down, worshipped unabashedly, reviled occasionally, shrugged off as a front man for some more sophisticated writer (Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the latest in a long line of contrarian candidates), quoted out of context ’til the cows come home.

Shakespeare's funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare’s funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

And still, four hundred years after his death, old Will Shakespeare’s a survivor. In a lot of ways, it seems, he’s never been healthier. He’s translated into pretty much every language of any size on Earth, and adapted into everything from ballets to symphonic musical scores to teen-movie comedies. And he’s an economic powerhouse: towns from Ashland, Oregon to Stratford-upon-Avon, England are built on the sturdy foundation of the money and visitors he draws in.

So, happy anniversary, Will. No one’s absolutely sure of the precise date he was born, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564 (probably three days after his birth), and died on April 23, 1616, and April 23 – this Saturday – is the day that much of the world will be celebrating his legacy. In Portland, the biggest party might be Shakespeare at 400, an all-day event (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s presented by PSU, the Portland Shakespeare Project, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Play On! Project” of contemporary “translations” of the plays (that word’s caused a lot of ruckus in the Church of Shakespeare), with input from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Wonder of Will celebration. There’ll be lectures, and readings, and a sonnet slam, and excerpts from three of OSF’s controversial translations by contemporary playwrights. Come see and hear for yourself what Amy Freed’s done with The Taming of the Shrew, Ellen McLaughlin with Pericles, and Douglas Langworthy with Henry VI: fresh approaches, or sacrilege?

Everything’s free, but organizers want to know how many people will be showing up, so click that link above and send in your RSVP.

"Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing," William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

“Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

 


 

Once upon a time the woods were mighty, and so were the men who worked in them. Paul Bunyan could clear-cut a hillside with a single swing of his ax (such activities are frowned upon these days) and hard-working, hard-living woodsmen were memorialized in folk songs: I see you are a logger, and not just a common bum, for nobody but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb.

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Frederick Wiseman talks “Titicut Follies”

The documentary master visits Portland this week to screen his 1967 debut, a scathing portrait of life in a Massachusetts mental hospital

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s been the mantra of documentary filmmaking legend Frederick Wiseman for a half-century now.

On Thursday, April 21, the Northwest Film Center will host Wiseman for a 35mm screening of his first feature, 1967’s notorious “Titicut Follies.” Filmed inside the Bridgewater (Massachusetts) State Hospital for the criminally insane, it unflinchingly depicted abuses that included forced nudity and force-feeding of inmates. It was a landmark of both observational, “direct cinema” style and led to legislative reforms, but was difficult if not impossible to screen for decades after its making.

Wiseman has gone on to make another forty documentaries, almost all of which explore some sort of institution (“Public Housing,” “Hospital,” “National Gallery”) using the same basic technique as his first. His latest film, 2015’s “In Jackson Heights,” is a testament to the remarkably diverse New York neighborhood of its title.

The 86-year-old Wiseman shows no signs of slowing. He took the time to call during a Sunday layover in a Washington, D.C. airport, on his way to Chicago. We talked about his upcoming visit to Portland, his time-tested methods, and the legacy of “Titicut Follies.”

A scene from "Titicut Follies." © 1967 Bridgewater Film Company, Inc. Photo provided courtesy of Zipporah Films.

A scene from “Titicut Follies.” © 1967 Bridgewater Film Company, Inc. Photo provided courtesy of Zipporah Films.

OAW: First of all, thanks for taking time out of what sounds like a busy travel schedule to speak with me.

FW: Happy to do it.

OAW: “Titicut Follies” was shot fifty years ago. What prompts you to continue to travel around and discuss it?

FW: They wanted to show it. They knew I was going to be in Portland. So I agreed to talk afterwards. I was pleased to be invited. I had been thinking about visiting, and they had wanted to have me out there for a while, so the interests coincided.

OAW: Is it at all surreal to look back on a film you made that long ago and realize its continued impact and influence?

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