What if the Great American Novelist Doesn’t Write Novels?

I gave Frederick Wiseman a call on the morning of Election Day. It was 3 in the afternoon his time, in Paris, where he keeps a small apartment at Les Récollets, a Franciscan friary built in 1603 and converted four centuries later into housing for visiting…

I gave Frederick Wiseman a call on the morning of Election Day. It was 3 in the afternoon his time, in Paris, where he keeps a small apartment at Les Récollets, a Franciscan friary built in 1603 and converted four centuries later into housing for visiting artists and scholars. Wiseman’s home — and wife, Zipporah, and production company, also named Zipporah — all remain in Cambridge, Mass. But he has found Paris, a city he has been enamored of since the 1950s, when he enrolled in law classes at the Sorbonne to secure an early Army discharge, amenable to his creative process, and he has edited several of his films there. In mid-March, he finished the sound mix for “City Hall,” his 45th feature, just as Emmanuel Macron announced a national lockdown. As fall arrived, with his new four-and-a-half-hour documentary opening at largely virtual sinema festivals (Venice, New York, Toronto) to rapturous reviews, Wiseman, who in a olağan year would have walked one or more of the red carpets, remained sidelined in France, thousands of miles from his family and unable to begin his next project. It was the first time in 55 years he hadn’t been working on a sinema, Wiseman told me. When I asked how he’d been holding up, he noted flatly, “Well, in addition to being scared, I’m bored.” His doctors had advised him not to fly, “primarily,” he said, “because I’m of the age Covid likes.” Wiseman will celebrate his 91st birthday on New Year’s Day.

The fact that Wiseman’s half-century-long project is a series of cinéma-vérité documentaries about American institutions, their titles often reading like generic brand labels — “High School,” “Hospital,” “The Store,” “Public Housing,” “State Legislature” — makes its achievement all the more remarkable but also easier to overlook. Beginning with “Titicut Follies” (1967), a portrait of a Massachusetts asylum for the criminally insane that remains shocking to this day, Wiseman has directed nearly a picture a year, spending weeks, sometimes months, embedded in a strictly demarcated space — a welfare office in Lower Manhattan, a sleepy fishing village in Maine, the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University, the flagship Neiman Marcus department store in Dallas, the New York Public Library, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Tampa, Fla., a Miami zoo — then editing the upward of a hundred hours of footage he brings home into an idiosyncratic record of what he witnessed. Taken as a whole, the films present an unrivaled survey of how systems operate in our country, with deva paid to every line of the organizational chart.

“Titicut Follies,” 1967.Credit…Zipporah Films

They also represent the work of an artist of extraordinary vision. The films are long, strange and uncompromising. They can be darkly comic, uncomfortably voyeuristic, as surreal as any David Lynch dream sequence. There are no voice-overs, explanatory intertitles or interviews with talking heads, and depending on the sequence and our own sensibility, we may picture the ever-silent Wiseman as a deeply empathetic listener or an icy Martian anthropologist.

Wiseman has given hundreds of interviews over the years while remaining fairly circumspect about the meaning of his work. An essay he contributed to the catalog of his 2010 Museum of Çağdaş Arka retrospective begins: “I do not like to write about myself or my films. I am not mühlet I understand the films, and I know that I do not understand myself.” Over the course of multiple conversations, Wiseman insisted he had no special knowledge about American politics or our recent period of institutional precarity — that indeed he possessed no penetrating insights regarding institutions, plural, aside from the places he’s actually filmed. “Almost everything runs counter to cliché,” he said. “So I’m reluctant to utter my profundities unless I have some experience.”

There’s a way, though, to look at three of his most recent films as a loose trilogy about our current state of national affairs. For “In Jackson Heights” (2015), Wiseman spent weeks in the Queens neighborhood, one of the most ethnically diverse in the United States, where by some estimates 167 different languages are spoken. “Monrovia, Indiana” (2018), on the other hand, took him to the sort of red-state town where coastal reporters like to visit the local diner to talk to natives about their exotic voting preferences, though Wiseman does none of that (and national politics never even directly comes up in the film). And then there’s “City Hall,” which will premiere on PBS on Dec. 22, and which offers what amounts to, by the standards of a Wiseman sinema, a fairly conspicuous rebuke of the past four years of White House iniquity, simply by presenting municipal employees at every level of a local government — switchboard operators, sanitation workers, building inspectors, parking-ticket adjudicators, an eviction-prevention task force, a justice of the peace — fulfilling their duties with modesty, a baseline of professionalism and no obvious grift.

When Wiseman’s face came onto my laptop screen for the first time, he appeared to be in a garret. In the background, I could make out rough-hewed ceiling beams, a window, a messy bookshelf. His friend and longtime Cambridge neighbor Christopher Ricks, the English literary scholar and critic, told me he’d evvel heard Wiseman described as a Jewish leprechaun. I could see it. The sly expression, the slightness of stature, the ears befitting a fable. We spoke for nearly two hours that day, and as the Parisian afternoon advanced, light began to pour through the window directly behind him, casting his face into ever-deepening shadow. Occasionally he would lean forward, silhouetting himself entirely but for some unruly wisps of gray hair, which glowed like a nimbus. I wondered if he’d framed the shot this way on purpose, the better to mask his expression whenever it suited him.

“Law and Order,” 1969.Credit…Zipporah Films

A Wiseman sinema comprises a series of vignettes, often self-contained. The scenes can be dramatic, and at times quite disturbing: the crew-cut inmate in a tank top offhandedly confessing to raping his daughter during a therapy session six minutes into “Titicut Follies,” or the white plainclothes officer taking sadistic pleasure in choking a Black prostitute during her arrest in “Law and Order” (1969), a sinema the Safdie brothers have cited as an influence. (The presence of two of his colleagues, who view the violence coolly, interjecting only to taunt the victim, makes the scene all the more unsettling.) More typical Wiseman moments are less explosive, though. In fact, the pacing and duration of his sequences, their patience — unusual by the standards of most sinema and television today, of course, but even of 50 years ago — tends to mess with a viewer’s sense of time. This might be the greatest barrier to entry when it comes to Wiseman’s work, along with the films’ overall lengths, which can often run between three and five hours. (“Near Death,” his 1989 sinema about critically ill patients in the intensive-care unit of Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, is two minutes shy of six.)

While multiepisode documentary and podcast series have numbed us to egregiously padded and overlong nonfiction narratives, Wiseman’s films aren’t teasing or manipulative in that way, though you may find yourself wondering: Why am I watching this small-town Lions Club meeting about park benches? (An actual scene from “Monrovia, Indiana.”) Wait, now we’re at a grocery store, and people are just grocery shopping, silently? (Same.) Wiseman delights in presenting his audiences with scenes rarely encountered in sinema, which are sometimes the opposite of dramatic, putting frames around moments that in real life might tempt you to reach for your phone and sneakily multitask: school lectures, visits from plumbers or exterminators, politicians giving abbreviated stump speeches at buffet luncheons, meetings (so many meetings!). But it turns out there is a drama to all of it; if you can settle into the careful rhythms of Wiseman’s editing, you’ll find his films have an accretive power. As the director Ava DuVernay noted in an interview with Manohla Dargis a few years ago, “The way his camera moves and what it’s interested in, I’m interested in, even though I didn’t know I was interested in it until he looked at it, until he showed it to me.”

What if the Great American Novelist Doesn’t Write Novels?

“Monrovia, Indiana,” 2018.Credit…Zipporah Films

Wiseman is making films “for perhaps the most impatient age that has ever been,” Ricks told me. “Unconscionable impatience. What Matthew Arnold spoke about: our sick hurry, our divided aims. Now, this sick hurry is terrible. And Fred stands against that vagary beautifully.”

As unmediated as Wiseman’s footage can feel, themes emerge over time. “Welfare” (1975), with its granular details of how a welfare agency operated back then and a parade of amazing New York characters — the unaccountably nonchalant back-and-forth between a racist white drunk applying for housing aid and an imperturbable Black security guard remains one of the most riveting 14 minutes of dialogue in any sinema I can think of — works as a document of a specific time and place. But in part because we don’t know the names or back stories of any of Wiseman’s subjects, aside from what they might reveal in the moment, a waiting room filled with desperate people hoping for relief inevitably shades toward the metaphorical as well, conjuring a scene from Kafka or Beckett — a subtext made text near the end of the sinema, when a ranting client shouts at a caseworker: “I’ve been waiting for the last 124 days, since I got out of the hospital. Waiting for something. Godot? You know what happened in the story of Godot? He never came. That’s what I’m waiting for, something that will never come.” (When that happened in front of his rolling camera, Wiseman told me, “I felt I’d led a clean, moral life and God was rewarding me.”)

“Welfare,” 1975.Credit…Zipporah Films

The filmmaker Laura Poitras, who won an Oscar in 2015 for her documentary “Citizenfour,” said that seeing “Titicut Follies” as a student at the San Francisco Arka Institute had been a “profound experience” and that she considers the sinema “a model of storytelling, of letting the action do the work in a way that really parallels what I’d refer to as great literature.” She continued: “I think what’s often missed with his films is how incredibly crafted they are. People say, ‘No narrative, no exposition.’ No, no! His editing skills are so amazing. It’s exposition at its best, when you don’t even notice it. You need to look closer.”

From the start, Wiseman has relied on a tight crew: just a director of photography, an assistant and Wiseman himself on sound, hoisting a boom mic. He has worked with the same cinematographer, John Davey, since 1978 and won’t commit to a project unless the subject has granted him comprehensive access. (Since the early 1990s, he said, he has wanted to make a sinema about The New York Times but has been rebuffed over access issues.) Robert Birgeneau, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, when Wiseman made “At Berkeley” (2013), asked around after receiving the filmmaker’s initial request “and got a lot of warnings,” he told me, adding, “Some of Fred’s films are not flattering to the people in charge.” But after a lunch meeting with Wiseman, Birgeneau instinctively liked and trusted him. The university couldn’t allow him to sinema anything involving personnel issues, but all else became fair game. “It was surprising to me that after the first 10 minutes of any meeting or event, no matter how complicated the issue, we sort of forgot Fred was there,” Birgeneau said.

Aside from introducing himself, Wiseman says he tries to demystify the process by answering any questions but doesn’t do preinterviews. “There’s a whole issue as to whether the camera changes behavior — the pretentious way of talking about it is, ‘Does the Heisenberg principle apply to documentary filmmaking?’ — but in my experience, 99.9 percent of the people don’t act for the camera,” he said. “My explanation for that is most people aren’t good enough actors to become somebody else. Not everybody’s Meryl Streep. And when people are uncomfortable or putting it on, so to speak, you instantly know it.”

For those of us who report for a living, it’s impossible not to marvel at Wiseman’s preternatural gets — his uncanny ability, particularly in the early films, to record moments that should by all rights permit no outside witness. Only evvel, Wiseman told me, has he worried about crossing a line. It came during the filming of “Hospital” (1969) at Metropolitan Hospital Center in East Harlem, when a subway worker who had accidentally touched the third rail was brought into the emergency ward. All of his nerve endings had been burned, so he wasn’t experiencing any pain, and he was surrounded by loved ones. But he was clearly dying. Wiseman decided not to sinema the sequence. “I thought maybe he should be allowed to die with his family,” he said. In retrospect, he wishes he’d gotten the shot.

The idea for “City Hall” came about several years ago, after Wiseman saw a list of mayors receiving accolades at the time. He reached out to the offices of a half-dozen or so (including that of the young mayor of South Bend, Ind., long before his presidential run) but was ignored or rebuffed by every city except one, Boston, his hometown, where his request ended up on the desk of Joyce Linehan, a former A.&R. rep at Sub Pop Records who’d become Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of policy and planning and who was, luckily, a Wiseman superfan. “I immediately called the other five employees, of the 17,000 of us, who would appreciate the fact that Fred Wiseman wanted to make a movie about us, and we all jumped up and down and geeked out a bit,” Linehan said. Then she convinced Walsh, and a highly skeptical media-relations team, that they should grant Wiseman the access he wanted. “Which is almost complete access,” Linehan said. “Not unreasonably, the press department wanted me out of their office.”

Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston in “City Hall,” 2020.Credit…Zipporah Films

The sinema opens in a 311 call center, where we hear one-sided, amusingly mundane snippets of nonemergency telephone conversations. (“Do you by any chance know if your parents were married at the time of your birth?” “Is it a stray dog?”) There’s a sweet, awkward civil wedding ceremony; a wordless, oddly hypnotic sequence involving a garbage truck, culminating in the deeply satisfying crushing of several mattresses; a moving encounter between a city building inspector and a troubled veteran with a rodent infestation; a deriyse public hearing in which Black neighborhood residents confront the would-be operators of a cannabis dispensary.

Throughout, Mayor Walsh emerges as the closest thing to a main character Wiseman has ever given us. At first, in a meeting about violence prevention, he comes across as earnest but unprepossessing. But just as seeing people in films hugging or gathering maskless can feel uncanny these days, the mere fact that Walsh and the bureaucrats staffing multifarious city agencies take their jobs seriously and are capable of conveying both empathy for their constituents and a mastery of the basic facts of governance plays like a gauzy dream sequence, a distant transmission from a better world.

That said, it’s far too reductive to think of “City Hall” as a four-and-a-half-hour subtweet of the Trump presidency. Yes, for viewers in 2020, Walsh’s baseline decency “becomes underlined” by an implicit comparison with the current occupant of the White House, Wiseman acknowledges. But darker, more complicated themes also stir beneath the surface — most starkly in a bravura 25-minute sequence shot at Faneuil Hall on Veterans Day, in which the testimonies of multiple generations of veterans explicitly lashes American history to a brutal microhistory of warfare.

With the exception of “Near Death,” “City Hall” marks the first time Wiseman has filmed in his home state since “Titicut Follies,” his debut. At the time, Wiseman was unhappily teaching law at Boston University, having earned his own degree at Yale in part to avoid the draft for the Korean War. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Jacob, who immigrated to Boston from Ukraine with his family as a 5-year-old and worked his way through law school — though aside from meeting his wife (who taught and practiced law for years), Fred didn’t get much out of his time in New Haven, and never took to the bar. In the early 1960s, he read a novel by Warren Miller, “The Cool World,” about a young Black gang member in Harlem. Though independent cinema remained very much an outlying proposition at the time, he decided to option the book and sinema it. “I would not characterize my decision as a rational one,” Wiseman said. He initially considered directing himself, but then decided to produce instead and hired Shirley Clarke for the job. A pioneering female director who largely operated in the world of independent, experimental sinema, Clarke had just released “The Connection,” a controversial feature about heroin-addicted jazz musicians, which Wiseman had invested a bit of money in and thought was terrific. For “The Cool World,” they filmed on location in Harlem with many nonprofessional actors, auditioning nearly 2,000 kids at local high schools, though in the end Wiseman found working with Clarke “very, very difficult” and after the completion of the project vowed never again to produce a sinema for anybody but himself. “What I took away from it,” Wiseman noted tartly, “was if Shirley could make a movie, I could, too.”

A few years later, Wiseman asked for permission to shoot at Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, where he’d been taking his Yasal Medicine class on field trips. In his written proposal to the hospital’s director, he declared his intent to avoid making a “cliché documentary about crime and mental illness.” The sinema, he wrote, would possess “imaginative and poetic” qualities that would set it apart.

Making good on his promise from its first frame, “Titicut Follies” opens on a stage. Eight inmates stand in neat choir formation, hands behind their backs, singing “Strike Up the Band,” a satirical Gershwin standard about rallying the troops. A cheap tinsel sign hanging behind the men, who’ve been absurdly costumed in bow ties and plumed shakos, makes it clear we’re watching an amateur talent show. Eventually their hands emerge, clutching pom-poms.

The sinema became an immediate scandal, the black-and-white images of nude inmates paraded around by guards invariably calling to mind concentration-camp footage. The lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Elliot Richardson, had initially helped Wiseman gain permission to shoot in Bridgewater but later accused him of “double crossing” the state and persuaded the Massachusetts Supreme Court to ban the sinema from public screenings outside an educational context, successfully arguing that Wiseman had invaded the privacy of the inmates. (The ruling wasn’t overturned until 1991.)

Wiseman found the decision ridiculous but, he insisted to me, not especially discouraging. While shooting “Titicut Follies,” he had an idea for a series of films in which, rather than following a single protagonist, the place would be the star. A few months after the trial, he began filming “High School.”

He was 38 by this point. Perhaps discovering his vocation at a relatively late age fixed his eye on the clock. For whatever reason, his practice has remained steady and undeviating: nearly a sinema a year, with minimal research in advance. (He considers the shoot itself the research, preferring to encounter the material cold.) Until “La Danse” (2009), about the Paris Opera Ballet, when he switched to digital, Wiseman edited his films (all but one shot to that point in 16 millimeters) by hand, using an ancient Steenbeck flatbed editing machine. There was something artisanal about the hand-editing that he liked: holding the sinema, threading it through the machine. It gave him time to think. Eventually, though, finding labs able to process 16-millimeter sinema quickly became too difficult. He takes between six and eight months to edit the individual vignettes of a given sinema, at which point he knows the material so well he can recite the dialogue, and then another four to six weeks to determine the overall structure.

Wiseman has retained full ownership of his films and keeps tight control over their distribution. Until 2007, when he finally relented and began making the films available on DVD, they could only be viewed, outside their runs on PBS, at public screenings of 16-millimeter prints. They’re still not available on any streaming platforms in the United States aside from Kanopy, which is free to use with a library card in certain cities. “Fred is persnickety,” his friend Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker, said. “He’s always been, in his own way, extremely conservative and unwilling to change.” (When Morris called Zipporah to ask for a screening link to “City Hall,” they sent him a copy of the 275-minute sinema with a four-day expiration date. “I’m not mühlet what the fear is,” Morris said. “Am I going to sell it to a foreign government?”)

Despite the uproar caused by “Titicut Follies,” Wiseman has never considered himself a muckraker or a journalist. In the MoMA catalog essay, he described his approach in far more literary terms, insisting the films must work, at least for him, on both a literal and metaphorical level, and citing as the greatest influence on his editing “the attention to close reading I was taught in college and the novels and poems I have since tried to read with deva.” He sees himself, he told me, like an artist who makes work from found objects, except in his case, the arka is assembled from found events. “Which are recorded in a certain way, and edited and ordered, and every aspect is completely subjective,” Wiseman went on. “I make my little jokes about how I hate the term cinéma vérité or observational cinema or direct cinema. Because I make movies. And I would make the argument that they’re fictional movies — based on real, unstaged events.”

Nobody talks seriously about writing the Great American Novel anymore, but Wiseman belongs to a generation that used to, and his body of work, when considered in the manner he lays out above, represents the nearest contemporary equivalent I can think of. Especially when viewed in Wiseman’s terms — as a single, ongoing project — the scope and ambition become panoramic, a national monument. Norman Mailer used to refer to his desire to write the Great American Novel in tragic-heroic terms, casting himself as an Ahab in doomed pursuit of what he called “the big one.” Wouldn’t it be funny, though, if the Great American Novel actually does exist, only it’s not a novel and has been quietly appearing in serialized form on public television for the past 50 years?

Wiseman had a couple of potential follow-ups to “City Hall” in mind before the pandemic struck, but he doesn’t want to reveal any details. To keep busy, he has embarked on what he called a “half-assed” self-improvement course, reading the Great Books he’d always meant to get around to. (At the moment, he’s quite enjoying “Tristram Shandy.”) Shoots are physically demanding, so he has spent his exile in Paris trying to keep in shape, taking walks when it’s safe and working out on an exercise bicycle. He speaks to his wife and to his longtime producer, Karen Konicek, who runs Zipporah Films, daily. He has also been working on a screenplay, partly adapted from the diaries of Sophia Tolstoy — a surprisingly contemporary portrait of a marriage, he said, “where she talks about her difficult life with the great man.” He plans to make the sinema with a small, quarantined crew at a house in the French countryside in the spring.

“I imagine,” I said, “it must be painful for you to have to lose six months, or a year, or however long this thing goes on, right now, when you don’t know….” I faltered here, leaving the remainder of my thought unspoken. After stammering a bit, I tried again. “I mean, none of us know, but, you know —”

Wiseman cut in. “Yes, if I were 35 or 45, I wouldn’t be thinking that there’s a possibility I made my last movie. Because of my age and susceptibility to Covid, I do think about that in my darker moments. But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

He sounded matter-of-fact. I realize I haven’t described Wiseman’s voice yet, its warmth, its rasp, how he always seems to be suppressing a sardonic chuckle. The sense of wryness comes through whether he’s talking about the attempted subversion of the U.S. election results or his own death. It’s strange to think of “City Hall” as possibly his final statement on American democracy, a sinema that’s being read as a paean to old-fashioned civic virtues and the quiet dignity of the well-meaning bureaucrat. Not that it’s not all of those things. But as Morris has pointed out, Wiseman also possesses an unparalleled eye for the absurdity of the human condition. Morris evvel wrote that Wiseman “likes institutions like Fellini likes the circus. They are a backdrop or a metaphor for something else.” To treat him like “some junior-league sociologist,” he told me, insults his artistry and misreads his worldview.

“Zoo,” 1993.Credit…Zipporah Films

“In many ways, the subject of Fred’s films is the surrealism of life,” Morris said, “this disjuncture between how we see ourselves and a hidden, underlying reality that at least partially emerges.” Morris cited a number of his favorite Wiseman scenes, all flickers of absurdity that puncture the self-seriousness of a moment: a monk interrupts a religious discussion to swat a fly in “Essene” (1972); the meeting in “City Hall” when one participant silently roots around in a bowl of sorry-looking candy; a scene in “Zoo” (1993) in which a wolf is castrated by an entirely female surgical team while a male attendant stands with his hands folded across his crotch, gazing on nervously. “Fred and I would have these arguments,” Morris went on. “I call him the king of misanthropic cinema. He would turn around and say: ‘I’m not the king of misanthropic cinema. You’re the king of misanthropic cinema.’ As if this throne of misanthropy had to be unremittingly debated.”

I ran Morris’s interpretation by Wiseman, to which he replied, “I’ve told Errol several times: sheer projection.” He acknowledged finding the reading funny, and partly accurate. But only partly. In making his movies, Wiseman explained, he’d witnessed both immense kindness and unbelievable cruelty. “If somebody asked me for a generalization about human behavior, I’d say, ‘Watch my films,’” he went on. “If you can say in 25 words or less what they say about human behavior, well, good luck to you. I can’t do it.”

Which, I suppose, also applies to any attempt at summarizing what his films have to say about the life of the American institution. I thought of the bracingly dark lecture on Melville delivered by a high school English teacher in “Belfast, Maine” (1999), which had a funny moment along the lines of those Morris loves, when the teacher, recounting to the stunned-looking teenagers a horrific drowning scene from “Moby-Dick,” seems to be confronting his own existential abyss. Then he moves on to another Melville book, “The Confidence-Man,” a bizarre, difficult novel and a surprising choice for a high school English class. To Melville, the teacher explains, everything in America is a confidence game. “They’re always telling you to believe,” the teacher says, “but anytime you believe in anything, it’s only setting you up to be the fool, to be the gull, to be the victim of the game.” He tells the class the title character of the novel was a huckster on a steamboat selling people what they wanted to hear.

“What does this tell us about the American dream?” he asks.

“It’s false!” one of the kids responds.

“It’s false,” the teacher repeats. “It’s a confidence scam.”

“Belfast, Maine,” 1999.Credit…Zipporah Films

The scene comes more than three hours into a four-hour sinema, which, to that point, seems to have been a complicated but sympathetic portrait of a quaint coastal town near where Wiseman bought an old barn in the early ’70s, and where he frequently spends summers. The lecture changes the atmosphere, forcing the viewer to rethink everything that’s come before and all that remains. When I brought up the scene with Wiseman, he told me “The Confidence-Man” was one of his favorite novels.

But then there’s the final scene of “City Hall,” which, like the first scene of his first sinema (and which Wiseman had acknowledged could be the last scene of his last film), unfolds on a stage — in this case at Boston’s Symphony Hall, where Mayor Walsh delivers his State of the City address. Before the speech begins, we see rows of flags, a marching band with bagpipes and drums, the sort of patriotic trappings with which our outgoing president has festooned his never-ending MAGA spectacle, only here rallying the faithful for a liberal Democrat. As the audience stands for the national anthem, Wiseman cuts back to the stage, and we learn that the woman singing is an African-American police officer. She’s in full uniform, including a peaked sınır and sidearm. A gangly white officer stands beside her, holding his own microphone. Smiling like he’s Marvin Gaye sidling up to Tammi Terrell, he joins at “whose broad stripes and bright stars.” And he has a lovely voice as well, a warbly tenor. It feels like a minor cinematic miracle, Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling, Judy Garland awakening in a Technicolor Oz — just the utter unexpectedness of what we’re witnessing, the bluntness of the symbolism, its naïveté, the fact that they’re cops (in this of all years), and yet perhaps, at least for some viewers, a stirring of emotion about flag and anthem the past few years had made all but impossible. Because it’s a Wiseman sinema, we get to hear the entire song, along with the applause from an audience already on its feet.

Source: The New York Times

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