Well, I finally managed to find the time to watch a documentary film I’ve been meaning to watch for some time. The oddly titled ‘Titicut Follies’ is a 1967 American documentary film directed by Frederick Wiseman. Centred on the patient-inmates of Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, a Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Titicut Follies is a brutally honest fly-on-the-wall piece of cinematography.
Before I go any further, I should point out that the title of the film is taken from a talent show put on by the hospital’s inmates (and shown in the opening few minutes of the film), which was named after the Wampanoag word for the Taunton River located nearby.
A window into the 1960’s asylum-prison system, Titicut Follies gives us an insight into the dehumanized life of the ‘patients’. The agony of watching naked men being taunted by staff who clearly have as much compassion in their interactions as they did training in mental health is unbearable. Moreover, the locking up of patients in bare cells, forceful washing and staff indifference makes for a shocking indictment on the system that allowed this to happen.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the film to watch is when one patient is force-fed via tube by a doctor who is smoking throughout the procedure. Not only that, the tube he uses appears to be inadequately lubricated, thus adding to the patient’s ordeal.
The whole approach, as documented in the film, appears to be containment and medication, although the institution was clearly the antithesis of a therapeutic environment.
Although Titicut Follies is a warning from a bygone era, it is a warning to society that we need constantly to revisit and re-evaluate our attitudes and approaches to mental health treatment. We are thankfully much more aware of the benefits of multidisciplinary approaches to mental health and the necessity of a person-centred approach. But there are of course some settings where much more work needs to be done, particularly in mainstream prison settings.
You can find out more about Titicut Follies by visiting the Zippora Films website: