City Hall is Frederick Wiseman’s exploration of the local government in Boston, Massachusetts. Ten minutes presumably depicts a week in the city’s life in a film that’s four and a half hours long.
City Hall depicts victory parades, which are great, but it focuses less on those and more on those committee meetings. Its interests seem to lie more on complex victories. Some of those meetings to achieve such victories have a dozen people. These people all come from diverse backgrounds and are able to put their word in, while others just have two people in them. Most of these meetings exist to fix things like homelessness and other problems that people with less social capital face. Some of those vulnerable people include LGBT+ and people of color. There are no on screen titles nor interviews here to highlight the diversity here, thus making the representation feel more organic.
My knowledge of Wiseman’s work has its limits, since I’ve only been able to see Titticut Follies and Boxing Gym. He’s worked for more than six decades, and a lot has changed during that time. There’s something about his approach in his later work. Political conversations feel too direct nowadays. A mayor looks straight into a camera, his words popping out on our phones. Wiseman plops his camera on the sidelines of these committees, showing a perspective of a great listener. And that quality makes the conversations he captures feel more spontaneous and fruitful.
(This is a short version of this review. I’ll publish a slightly longer version during this film’s digital release).