Titicut Follies (1967)

Titicut Follies (1967)

The year is 1967, and the place is Bridgewater State Hospital For The Criminally Insane in Massachusetts. The documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, with his camera man John Marshall, was allowed to spend 29 days in the institution to film and witness the daily routines with its inmates and workers, filmed in black and white that sets an eerie tone from the first frame. The documentary starts with a light-hearted welcome, with a song number performed by the hospital’s talent show called Titicut Follies, but I guess it didn’t take long before the filmmakers were eternally grateful that they could leave this concrete hell hole at any time and never set their feet there again.


The documentary is completely free of narration, and the experience is like witnessing an absurd and sometimes very disturbing fever dream where the images speak for themselves. But this is far from a dream. It’s raw, unfiltered, claustrophobic and not far from a fly-on-the-wall feeling. We see a group of inmates who are constantly being ordered to take off their clothes in one of the gathering rooms. They also have only a small bucket to piss in, and possibly also shit and vomit in, which they have to take with them through a long corridor to empty. Several are stripped of all their clothes and have to stay butt naked in completely empty cells, while the guards humiliate and bully them like they were animals. We get a scene with an older guy named Jim, who makes the strongest impression. He’s in a psychotic episode. He’s probably sick and tired of walking around naked, so who can blame him. It also looks like he has blood around his mouth, judging from that blurry picture quality. Regardless, the guards think it’s funny. And this is just a glimpse of a completely rotten and corrupt industry that has not been much improved over the years, where fair treatment is as difficult to get as winning the lottery. And I think that what we see here is just the tip of the iceberg, and God knows what was going on when the cameras weren’t rolling.


Wiseman ended up with 80,000 feet of film, which I guess is several hundreds of hours of footage, and he spent a whole year to edit it down to an 84-minute film. Showing this to the public would not be easy when the bureaucrats (or bureau’rats, if you will) in the government of Massachusetts tried to ban the film for being screened at the New York Film Festival, claiming that it would violate the “privacy and dignity” of the inmates. As if their privacy and dignity wasn’t violated long ago already. It wasn’t until 1991 that the film was officially released to the public, since most of the inmates had passed away and  privacy concerns wasn’t longer an big issue. Little did they  imagine that even fifty years later, the film still feels fresh and manages to provoke as it’s unfortunately still relevant. The DVD is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. And on YouTube.


Titicul Follies


Director: Frederick Wiseman
Country & year: USA, 1967
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0062374/



Tom Ghoul














The Devil and Father Amorth (2017)

In 1972 William Friedkin made “The Exorcist”. Now, fourty years later, he got the opportunity to film a real exorcism. He travels to Rome, Italy, to meet Father Gabriele Amorth, a priest and the Vatican’s Exorcist in Chief himself who’s performed over 50.000 exorcisms. During the documentary he was 91 years old and a bit fragile, but showed no sign of slowing down. There are 60 million people in Italy and we learn that 500.000 of them are seeing an exorcist every year. Yikes.


One of them is the 47-year old Christina who claims to be possessed by the devil (or 89 (!) demons as claimed in an online article), and Father Amorth have exorcised her eight times without any success. In this documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth”, we’ll witness the ninth attempt. And Friedkin was allowed by the Vatican to film the session, but only with a small video camera and without any crew. And according to this documentary, The Vatikan has never allowed any exorcisms to be filmed before.  So I bet Mr. Friedkin was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning to finally witness the real deal, and show it to the world.


And after we briefly meet Christina, I wish there was a lot more focus on her and how she functions in the everyday-life while supposedly being possessed by 89 freakin’ demons. Seriously. How does she even get out of bed? How is she being able to do anything? And how does her boyfriend and family handle the situation? And this being the ninth time she’s being exorcised, she sure looks pretty healthy with her make-up an all. She gives a quick interview before the exorcism session starts, while she smiles and acts like she’s waiting for her turn to do an audition for a song contest, Italian Idol, or something. But no, there’s no in-depth with her, she just comes and goes. Is she really possessed, mentally ill or just a really bad actress who wants some attention? Still, Father Amorth is certainly convinced that she’s possessed.


And then the session begins in Father Amorth’s office with Christina’s family and relatives as witnesses. And oh’boy oh’boy what a cringy witnessing that is. If I sat in that room, I would really struggle not to laugh.


I didn’t expect any head-twisting, levitation or anything like that, but if William Friedkin waited 40 years for this, he is in his full right to tell what he really thinks. Well, he does not. And someone in the sound-department had obviously played the zombie-mode of Call of Duty and thought the sound effects from the zombies would be a great idea for a double-toned demon voice. This is an element that many viewers with a brain and common sense have pointed out, and Friedkin was asked directly in an interview with Vulture if there was some manipulation of the voice in post-production. His reply was “I wouldn’t fuck around with that! That’s ridiculous!” Ha ha, yeah right, Mr. Friedkin. With all due respect, we’re not that dumb and naive.


So watching this with an open mind is just plain impossible. It’s also quite amusing that this thing actually “baffled” medics when it was screened at the Venice Film Festival, and a group of doctors watching the exorcism  of Christina in a meeting room with a straight face. Like we’ve never seen anything like this before. Bob Larson, anyone? He’s one of the many television evangelists who’s done the same thing for decades, and even though he’s batshit crazy, there’s not much difference in what we see here. But when some ancient dude from the Vatican enters the screen and swings his cruicifix to someones forehead, it’s suddenly somehow believable? Meh..


Spoiler warning: The ending makes it even more questionable and shady when Friedkin sets up a final interview with Christina in a small village outside of Rome. We’re being told that he meets her in a church, which he describes as “trapped in a living nightmare”. And as if all the credibility hasn’t been flushed down the toilet already, he didn’t even take his camera inside… How could this get even worse? To top the level of cringe, he retells the scenario from his memory and adds some dramatic music and sounds of the demon voice in a desperate attempt to give us a climax, or a sort of. So there you have it. “The Call of Duty Zombie-Devil and Father Amorth”. What a joke. It’s hard to tell if this is a mockumentary or not, you’d expect more from a director like William Friedkin, and not a lazy nothingburger like this.


Just before Father Amorth could perform Christina’s tenth exorcism, he dies. Rest in Peace. Now it’s time to call Sam and Dean. Friedkin then gives a quick epilogue while standing in front of The Exorcist Steps in Georgetown as a reminder that he at least made one of the greatest horror films of all time.


The Devil and Father Amorth


Director: William Friedkin
Country & year: Italy | USA, 2017
Cast: Gabriele Amorth, Robert Barron, William Friedkin
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt6883152/


Related posts: The Pope’s Exorcist (2023)



Tom Ghoul