Frederick Wiseman’s ‘In Jackson Heights’ Explores One of the Most Diverse Neighborhoods in the World… at extremely great length.

by Alex Deleon.

Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman’s 40th documentary since his famous insane asylum study, Titicut Follies” of 1967, titled “In Jackson Heights”, is about a racially and ethnically mixed neighborhood in the Queens section of New York City. The movie was shot in eight weeks in the summer of 2014, following the lives of Jackson Heights residents, (mostly Latinos, Jews, and Gays) their work, their formal and informal discussions, their centers of spiritual and political communion, their demonstrations and marches, all immigrants very much attached to their beloved neighborhood, but always caught up in a balancing act between trying to remain connected to their ethnic roots and the necessity of adapting to the American way of life.
Mr. Wiseman’s filmography includes many acclaimed documentaries, among them noted landmark titles such as “Titicut Follies,” “High School,” “Welfare,” “La Danse,” “At Berkeley” and “National Gallery.”
In the current three hour plus Opus #41 there are many interesting highlights and sidelights any one of which could be the subject of an entire film on their own: A group therapy session of elderly gays and gay couples, probably a first in the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) film cannon; the colorful Jackson Heights Gay Pride Parade, which, as captured in Wisemans lens, looks like a miniature Rio de Janeiro Carneval procession; a Latino Catholic padre addressing a flock of followers in Spanish in a synagogue on the evils of drug abuse and marital infidelity, both rampant in the community — and finally, an elderly white haired lady addressing a pitifully small gathering of fellow Holocaust survivors on the need to keep the fading memories alive… all scenes filled out in typical Wiseman style with facial closeups of silent onlookers, their eloquent silence serving as a kind of visual punctuation throughout.

A highly amusing note struck in the gay section, was an older lady commenting on closet gayness in golden
age Hollywood. She refers to the extemely handsome actor Tyrone Power, usually cast as a heroic lover of woman.
She mentions than in the film “Captain From Castile” (1947) Power fell in love with macho latino actor Cesar Romero and had an affair with him. whoopee !


All well and good, however, with a running time of 190 minutes the picture is far too long. In one segment a man addressing an audience of small Latino business people threatened with eviction and speaking in highly Americanized Spanish, goes on and on and on to the point where the moderator has to step in and advise him to bring his overlong oration to a close. “Okay” says speaker, and then goes on for another five minutes. This runs on screen for an interminable fifteen minutes as people start to file out of the theater in droves. The point could have been made in two minutes of screen time. One gets the impression that the version screened here at the Mostra was a rough cut which will be cut down (hopefully) to size later. If not, the only hope of retaining audience attention will be to release it in two parts.

There is a wise sayings that says “Old men plant trees”. This screentree by Wiseman needs to be replanted.

Feature by Alex DeLeon.

Alex De Leon

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