Frederick Wiseman's ‘Beating Heart’ of Rural Americana – Frederick Wiseman和第039:美国农村的“跳动的心脏”

Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary, Monrovia, Indiana (2018) opens with a series of bucolic shots of rural Americana before moving inside to a meeting of a small church group. ‘Remember,’ a middle-aged man wearing a cross tells those gathered, ‘when He started this whole thing, everything was perfect. We messed it up. We brought the tribulations.’

Wiseman, here on his 42nd feature documentary, visits a handful of establishments in this predominantly white town, transmitting conversations and images from the gun shop, the pizza parlour, a baby shower, the supermarket and the beauty salon, amongst other main street staples. The film is a document of the present tense, but one told almost completely through the language and imagery of the past. In an early scene in a high school classroom, a teacher lectures on Monrovia’s historic glories in basketball, his recounting of their ‘dominance’ in the sport during the 1920s failing to inspire the near-comatose students. A ceremony awarding a Freemason a 50-year membership award is a bleak affair, the men stuttering and stumbling through the creaky formal language. Even one of the film’s most excitable conversations, between a group of men seated in lawn chairs at a vintage car show, circles around how far a dollar used to stretch.


Frederick Wiseman's ‘Beating Heart’ of Rural Americana - Frederick Wiseman和第039:美国农村的“跳动的心脏”

Frederick Wiseman, Monrovia, Indiana, 2018, film still. Courtesy: Zipporah Films

The film’s location and subject-hopping approach most directly recalls Wiseman’s film In Jackson Heights (2015), about the diverse neighbourhood in Queens, New York; Monrovia, Indiana is that earlier film’s lily-white negative. The overwhelmingly white enclaves of Indiana have long been used as stand-ins for what’s going on in America, and Monrovia, Indiana also brings to mind the ‘Middletown’ (1982) films, a series of six slice-of-life documentaries helmed by Peter Davis and shot just down the highway in Muncie, Indiana beginning in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial. ‘Middletown’ aired on American public television, and was a follow up to the famous ‘Middletown Studies’ (1929, 1937) a Depression-era set of sociological investigations into the white population in a small town. The town of Muncie – anonymous in the studies – was chosen as typical and representative, used by sociologists Helen and Robert Lynd ‘to study synchronously the interwoven trends that are the life of a small American city’. The best known of the ‘Middletown’ films, Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines’ cult favourite Seventeen, is an intimate look at the sex life of a white high school student Lynn Massie, that also reveals the blatant and toxic racism of Muncie. If we take Middletown as an accounting of the health of the nation, it’s telling that Seventeen was censored by PBS and never broadcast.


Frederick Wiseman's ‘Beating Heart’ of Rural Americana - Frederick Wiseman和第039:美国农村的“跳动的心脏”

Frederick Wiseman, Monrovia, Indiana, 2018, film still. Courtesy: Zipporah Films

By now, the coastal reporter parachuting in to the mom-and-pops of Middle America to take stock of the beating heart of the nation is as well-trod and hoary an American political reporting cliché as ‚‘mom-and-pops’, middle America’ and, indeed, ‘the beating hearts’. The diner, the barber shop, the church. Parades and crops, trucks and waffles, weddings and Elks Lodges. This maddening game of Mad Libs reportage reached a fever pitch in the equally feverish years following Donald Trump’s election and in this post-truth environment, there’s a collective exhaustion at the faux authenticity of the form and a resistance to the idea that you can read the main street tea leaves to uncover the roots of our political moment. (Not to mention the resistance to the now outdated idea that this kind of community should be used as a stand-in for the diverse nation.) In Monrovia, Indiana, there’s a total absence of statistical information about the town or its residents, neither provided conversationally by any of the films subjects, nor by Wiseman himself via text cards (such a sign-posting intervention would be as out of place in a Wiseman film as an alien invasion). Throughout its runtime, the film returns to a town council meeting where there’s a series of debates over how Monrovia should expand demographically, how to provide necessary services to a housing development called Homestead, and whether the development should have even been built in the first place; these scenes are the closest the film gets to the explicit addressing of ‘issues’. This may very well be Trump country, but that’s to be reckoned with elsewhere.

Wiseman, who has long described his artistic approach as being ‘more novelistic than journalistic’, is not after political evaluations and there is tremendous value to be found in his revisiting these clichés and surveying them anew. Here, as in Wiseman’s other films, there’s an alchemy to his editing, an accumulation of meaning that builds slowly. Many of the film’s scenes are stifling and wearisome in their dullness, which seems to be a feature, not a bug. Monrovia, Indiana is permeated by the sense of people who are just going through the motions of living – not even the wedding of a young couple is a vivacious affair. It wasn’t until an enterprising salesman hawking mattress covers shows off jars filled with an accretion of bodily fluids, skin, and hair that I realized with complete certainty that this film was going to end in a cemetery. What Wiseman documents and constructs here is an indelible record of decline; he checks in with the institutions that comprise the folksy story of white America, and finds a place reenacting a ghost story.


Frederick Wiseman's ‘Beating Heart’ of Rural Americana - Frederick Wiseman和第039:美国农村的“跳动的心脏”

Frederick Wiseman, Monrovia, Indiana, 2018, film still. Courtesy: Zipporah Films

In Monrovia, Indiana, the landscape itself retains the purity the American Dream – all blue skies and golden waves of grain. In the sermon at the funeral that comprises the film’s final scenes, the pastor invokes the pleasures of the after-life to provide reassurance to the grieving, but it is a symbolic message that seems also to be reassuring Monrovia’s residents, the living dead: ‘Heaven is a place of no sorrow, no crying. No compromised bodies, no wheelchairs. No beds of affliction. Unspeakable joy. The pains of life not permitted. The failures of life affect us no longer.’ Wiseman is often referred to as the premier portraitist of American institutions, but what he’s also been doing over all these decades is taking the collective pulse. And here, those ‘beating hearts’ of America have flatlined.

Main image: Frederick Wiseman, Monrovia, Indiana, 2018, film still. Courtesy: Zipporah Films

Sierra Pettengill

Sierra Pettengill is a New York-based filmmaker. She is currently a Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fellow.

Opinion /

Frederick Wiseman
Sierra Pettengill

弗雷德里克·怀斯曼的新纪录片《印第安纳州蒙罗维亚》(2018)以美国乡村的一系列田园风光开场,然后进入一个小型教会团体的会议。“记住,”一个背着十字架的中年人告诉那些聚集在一起的人,“当他开始这一切时,一切都很完美。”我们把事情搞糟了。我们带来了苦难。“怀斯曼,在他的第42部专题纪录片中,访问了这个以白人为主的城镇中的一些机构,传递来自枪店、比萨店、婴儿淋浴、超市和美容院的谈话和图像,以及其他主要场所。EET钉这部电影是现在时态的一部文献,但几乎完全通过过去的语言和意象来讲述。在高中教室的早期场景中,一位老师讲解蒙罗维亚在篮球方面的历史辉煌,他讲述了他们在20世纪20年代在体育界的“统治地位”,但没有能激励那些近乎昏迷的学生。授予共济会会员50年奖项的仪式是件令人沮丧的事情,男人们结结巴巴地说着吱吱作响的正式语言。即使是电影中最激动人心的对话之一,在一场老式车展上,坐在草坪椅上的一群男人之间的谈话,也围绕着一美元过去能伸展到什么程度。._.cil_._mo.jpg Frederick Wiseman's ‘Beating Heart’ of Rural Americana - Frederick Wiseman和第039:美国农村的“跳动的心脏” Frederick Wiseman,蒙罗维亚,印第安纳州,2018年,电影。礼貌:Zipporah Films.这部电影的地理位置和主题跳跃方式最直接地让人想起怀斯曼的电影《在杰克逊高地》(2015),讲述了纽约皇后区的不同街区;印第安纳州的蒙罗维亚是之前那部电影的百合白色底片。印第安纳州压倒一切的白色飞地长期以来一直被用作美国正在发生的事情的代言人,印第安纳州蒙罗维亚也让人想起了《中城》(1982)系列电影,由彼得·戴维斯执导,在蒙西高速公路上被击落的一系列六部生活纪录片。戴安娜始于1976,是美国二百周年之年。《米德尔敦》在美国公共电视上播出,是著名的《米德尔敦研究》(1929,1937)的后续节目。这是一部大萧条时期对小镇白人进行的社会学调查。蒙西镇,在研究中是匿名的,被社会学家海伦和罗伯特·林德选为典型和有代表性的城市,用来“同步地研究美国小城市的生活交织的趋势”。《米德尔敦》中最有名的电影,乔尔·德莫特和杰夫·克莱因斯最爱的《17岁》,是对白人高中生林恩·马西性生活的一种亲密观察,这也揭示了蒙西公然和有毒的种族主义。如果我们把米德尔顿看作国家健康状况的一个会计,那就说明17岁被PBS审查过,而且从来没有播出。main_._store._mo.jpg Frederick Wiseman's ‘Beating Heart’ of Rural Americana - Frederick Wiseman和第039:美国农村的“跳动的心脏” Frederick Wiseman,蒙罗维亚,印第安纳,2018,电影。礼貌:Zipporah Films.到目前为止,这位沿海记者跳伞到中美洲的妈妈和流行人那里来评估这个国家跳动的心脏,这已经是美国政治报道中的陈词滥调了,就像“妈妈和流行人,美国中部”一样。“跳动的心脏”。餐厅、理发店、教堂。游行和农作物,卡车和华夫饼干,婚礼和麋鹿寄宿。在唐纳德?特朗普当选后同样狂热的岁月里,这种疯狂的利伯斯报告文学的游戏达到了狂热的程度。在后真理的环境中,人们普遍对这种形式的虚假真实性感到疲惫,并抵制那种认为你可以阅读主要街道的想法。茶叶揭开了我们政治时刻的根源。(更别提对这种过时的观点的反对了,这种社区应该被用作不同国家的代言人。)在印第安纳州的蒙罗维亚,完全没有关于该镇及其居民的统计信息,也没有任何一部电影以对话方式提供。科目,也不通过文本卡片由智者本人(这样的标志张贴干预会像外来入侵一样在智者电影中格格不入)。整个片子播出期间,影片回到了市议会会议,会上就蒙罗维亚应该如何扩大人口规模,如何为名为Homestead的住宅开发提供必要的服务,以及开发是否应该在第一个p.蕾丝;这些场景是电影最接近“问题”的明确地址。这很可能是特朗普的国家,但这在其他地方是值得考虑的。怀斯曼长期以来一直把他的艺术方法描述为“比新闻报道更具小说性”,但他并不追求政治评价,他重新审视这些陈词滥调并重新审视这些陈词滥调有着巨大的价值。在这里,就像威斯曼的其他电影一样,他的编辑有一种炼金术,一种慢慢积累的意义积累。这部电影的许多场景在乏味中令人窒息和厌烦,这似乎是一个特征,而不是一个bug。蒙罗维亚,印第安纳州弥漫着一种正在经历生活运动的人的感觉——甚至连一对年轻夫妇的婚礼都不是一件热闹的事情。直到一个有进取心的推销员摊开床垫盖,炫耀装满体液、皮肤和头发的罐子,我才完全肯定地意识到这部电影将在墓地里结束。怀斯曼在这里记载和建筑的是一种不可磨灭的衰落记录;他向那些构成美国白人民间故事的机构登记,找到了一个再现鬼故事的地方。TractRoMo.JPG WPAP602602IMG Frederick Wiseman,蒙罗维亚,印第安娜,2018,胶片静止。礼貌:在印第安纳州的蒙罗维亚,风景本身保持着美国梦的纯洁——所有的蓝天和金色的谷物波浪。在包括电影最后场景的葬礼上的布道中,牧师援引了死后的快乐来为悲痛的人们提供安慰,但这是一个象征性的信息,似乎也在安慰蒙罗维亚的居民,活着的死者:“天堂是没有悲伤的地方,不要哭泣。没有妥协的身体,没有轮椅。没有痛苦的病床。无法形容的喜悦生命的痛苦是不允许的。生活中的失败不再影响我们。“怀斯曼经常被称为美国机构的首要肖像画家,但他在这几十年里也一直在做的是采取集体的脉搏。在这里,那些“跳动的美国”已经变得平坦了。主要形象:Frederick Wiseman,蒙罗维亚,印第安娜,2018,电影仍然。礼貌:Zipporah Films.Sierra Pettengill.Sierra Pettengill是纽约的电影制作人。她目前是圣丹斯学院非小说艺术院士。意见/弗雷德里克威斯曼电影塞拉帕特金尔意见美国纪录片


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