Review: At Berkeley

At Berkeley: a rigorous documentary

Film Title: At Berkeley

Director: Frederick Wiseman

Starring: none

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 244 min

Thu, Feb 20, 2014, 17:50


Anybody familiar with the work of Frederick Wiseman will know not to expect flash gimmicks or any talking-down from his documentaries. They will also be aware that rigour will not be in short supply. The great man, now 84, is interested in allowing the structure of institutions to show themselves very gradually over long stretches of time. After imposing that technique on zoos, ballet companies and hospitals, Wisemen directs his attention towards the University of California at Berkeley. As ever, working without voice-over, he adopts the role of venerable fly on the wall. We watch a lawn being mowed. We enjoy a lecturer’s deconstruction of John Donne’s To His Mistress Going to Bed . We hear students discuss the rights and wrongs of subsidising education through taxation. You couldn’t say the four-hour film races along – indeed, by the close, observers may feel they’ve earned the right to their own diploma – but the steady accumulation permits priceless insight into one of the US’s great liberal organisations. Domestic viewers may frown a little at the frequent complaints that the school is now in straitened circumstances. That is just the sort of conversation Wiseman likes to start.

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