Where on the Shelf Is…The Films of Frederick Wiseman?

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Welcome to “Where on the Shelf Is…” In this column, I look at great TV shows and movies that have never been on DVD and/or Blu-ray. For your pleasure and out of all of our frustrations, this column examines the Where, When and, of course, WHY?! of these non-releases.


What Is It?:

Frederick Wiseman has been a notable force in the documentary field since the 1960s, having helmed such classics of the genre as HIGH SCHOOL and TITICUT FOLLIES, which constantly rank on various bestof lists.

He has covered everything from the welfare system (WELFARE) and zoos (ZOO) to ballet (BALLET) and Belfast, Maine (BELFAST, MAINE), just to prove that movie titles don’t have to be flashy.

His works have also won at the Emmys and the Berlin International Film Festival, and have been nominated at the César Awards, the Satellite Awards and the Sundance Film Festival, to name just three. Wiseman himself has been the recipient of lifetime/career achievement honors from the likes of the American Society of Cinematographers, LAFCA and the Peabody Awards.

Where Is It?:

The issue here isn’t that Wiseman’s films can’t find home video distribution, it’s that they’re available in only one place (and that place ain’t Walmart). Zipporah Films has the sole distribution rights of the Wiseman library, meaning you can only purchase his works through their website.

There, the average price for a DVD is $29.95, and some (like the 358-minute NEAR DEATH) go for $39.95. And keep in mind that these are discs that include “no commentaries or extraneous materials” whatsoever. We’’e not implicating Wiseman by suggesting he’s responsible for ripping off his fans, but couldn’t he step in and make the discs less expensive?

We also don’t expect films like MANOEUVRE and SINAI FIELD MISSION to grace the same shelf space as $7.88 Blu-rays of LEGENDS OF THE FALL and SAW IV. But the market for documentaries is as big as ever: half of the top 10 highest-grossing docs ever are from the last five years alone, and names like Herzog, Moore and Spurlock are constant cinematic presences. There’s absolutely nothing to lose in putting a copy of HOSPITAL next to SICKO, or PRIMATE next to Disneynature’s CHIMPANZEE. (And there must be a link between 2001’s DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER.)

When Will We See It?:

Zipporah isn’t going bankrupt anytime soon, so there’s no reason to anticipate being able to purchase Wiseman’s films in, say, Target. We did, however, hear a rumor that they may soon be available at your local Sam Goody.

Where Can We See It?:

Not keen on giving Zipporah more than $1,200 to check out the work of one of the greatest documentarians ever? Let’s have a look at your other options…

Search for the director on eBay and you’ll turn up press photos, books and, as of this column, only one DVD-related item: a lot of eight Zipporah DVDs, selling for $150, or $90 less than what the company has them for on their website.

Beyond that, the next logical bets would be Netflix and YouTube. But only four of Wiseman’s films are listed through the rental service, and even those have the ominous green “Save” button next to their titles. And YouTube? Well, they have somewhere around two millennia’s worth of cat videos, but only snippets of Wiseman’s iconic filmography.

Play me off, Keyboard Cat!

Is one of your favorite movies or TV shows not available on DVD or Blu-ray? Leave your suggestions below or shoot me an e-mail at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com

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