Fred Wisemen is not so much a director as he is a symphony conductor. His latest documentary, City Hall, is a testament to this. At a sprawling four and a half hours, he finds beats and rhythms within his subjects, providing a texture and pattern that builds into melodies and occasionally swells into crescendos (and at age 90, mind you).
Throughout his 53-year career, Wiseman has crafted street serenades in cities such as Jackson Heights, New York, Paris, France, and Monrovia, Indiana. In City Hall, he turns to his hometown, Boston, Massachusetts, and the local government’s inner-workings under the leadership of current mayor Marty Walsh. Whereas previous Wiseman subjects were more locations and institutions, Hall feels decidedly more personal with the mayor at the helm.
“…the local government’s inner-workings…”
It’s still delivered with the same non-narrative, non-title-card approach as the director’s past projects. Instead, Wiseman and his camera sit in on various meetings, gatherings, and other cogs in the machinery of a functioning local government. Given the lengthy run time, it may seem like pulling up to a super-sized line at the local DMV, but this is where Wiseman taps his baton and brings each piece together in a synchronous flow.
From the senior center meetings to the police patrolling parade routes to the justice of the peace presiding over a marriage, we witness how these incredibly diverse pockets of government work in tandem to assist an even more diverse population. We watch the reciprocal practice of citizen input and how it affects decisions that resonate from the titular location. It is akin to watching an internal body scan, where you can see how the nervous system pumps out the necessary responses to ailments or afflictions.
"…Wisemen is not so much a director as he is a symphony conductor."