Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

"At Berkeley": The History of the University, in Real Time 

Wednesday, Dec 4 2013
Comments

Now here's another of documentary maven Frederick Wiseman's thick slices of institutional life, and it's a doozy. The subject is America's most renowned public university, variously beleaguered by state budget cuts and a seemingly uneasy reflection on its legacy of progressivism. An unprecedentedly exhaustive cross-section, and a must-see for anyone who cares at all about UC Berkeley, this is not necessarily a general-audience affair. Sometimes Wiseman's fly-on-the-wall approach feels refreshing or classic, and cuts through the noisy nonsense of recent documentary trends. Sometimes it's a little boring. Can we admit as much, even when he examines so important a fixture of our own metropolitan culture? What's more, Wiseman's sometimes stubbornly artless film stretches on for more than four hours, which is a lot to ask even without so many scenes of people sitting inside and having meetings. (Somewhat helpfully, Robert Reich is on hand giving a lecture in which he says that faculty meetings are awful, and they go on twice as long as government meetings. "They are used to hearing themselves speak!") Presumably for reasons of maintaining democratic equilibrium, Wiseman withholds all expository annotation. That absent information — about who certain key players are, and how exactly they relate — might have been illuminating after all, or at least helped viewers get their bearings. But there is a technique and a structure of sorts in Wiseman's pluralistic, long-game immersion, and there is a positive result: We see what makes this institution tick, and why.

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

Bio:
SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

Related Locations

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Phish at the Bill Graham Auditorium
    Phish is in the midst of a block of sold out shows at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (October 27-29). The Monday night concert featured a rare first set opener of “Walfredo” with the band members switching instruments for the song. The evening’s highlights included John Fishman and his iconic vacuum cleaner solo and favorites such as Chalk Dust Torture, Slave to the Traffic Light, Axilla, Rift, 2001 Space Odyssey, and Maze. The show also featured Phish’s debut of a, seemingly impromptu, version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to with roaring approval of the, singing along, crowd. With Game 6 being tonight, partying Phish fans will join Giants fans in Civic Center Plaza where there will be a World Series viewing party on a large screen set up by the City. Photography by Jamie Soja.
  • The 4th Annual Masquerotica 2014 - NSFW
    The theme this year was Carnaval Mystique for the 4th Annual Masquerotica at The Factory. Attendees were entertained by strip dance, trapeze, and live music. Photographs by Calibree Photography.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed