Friday, March 1, 2013

Titicut Follies

It's no coincidence that the second season of American Horror Story took place in an asylum. By doing that, everything became creepy by default. The thought of losing control of your mind, and then being placed in an institution that takes away your dignity and any chance of regaining your faculties, is a terrifying one.

While Titicut Follies is not a horror movie, it's plenty disturbing on more than one level. There is no narration. It's like a camera operator was plunked down in the middle of a madhouse - so the first level of discomfort is  the forced proximity to insane people. A couple of them rant and rave to the point of glossolalia about religion, politics, who knows what. If you've ever been stuck on a subway next to a crazy person, this will seem instantly familiar. This makes a movie that is pretty brief feel like it's taking forever to finish.

What's more disturbing than insanity? The people who are paid to take care of people suffering from mental illness not doing their jobs. One scene has the gentleman pictured above being goaded into a loud and aggressive response. More than one orderly mugs for the camera in "ain't I a stinker" fashion as they repeat words and phrases designed to make the patient go off, again and again. It makes you wonder what they decided NOT to do while being filmed. The psychiatric professionals aren't much better. They constantly interrupt or ignore the patients they're treating and don't seem to have any idea how to improve peoples' mental problems or the conditions at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane - other than feeding them more drugs, perhaps. This could also be a result of knowing they're being filmed by a camera crew. It seems to bring out the worst in a lot of people in this film.

It's hard to imagine how shocking this documentary must have been in 1966. While the concept of Bedlam being hell on earth isn't new, the matter of fact nature and unremitting unpleasantness of this movie reinforce the notion. Inmates are naked for unknown reasons a lot of the time. One man has a tube shoved up his nose all the way down into his stomach and food is pumped in to keep him from dying. He dies anyway. Even the variety show put on by staff and inmates that gives the movie its title is a total downer. While there are some moments that aren't that bleak (such as a couple of the performances from the show and a scene with a sweet older lady volunteer who seems super nice), the vast majority of the time one spends watching this movie doesn't result in increased faith in humanity.

Tomorrow: Guinea Pig:Flower of Flesh and Blood

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