or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 8/26/07

   September 1st, 2007

Titicut Follies posterA patron comes in with "Titticutt Follies" written on a piece of paper. She hands it to me and asks if I can help her find it.

After a bit of questioning, I eventually find out that it is a film, about patients in a (now closed) Massachusetts mental hospital. I checked our local catalog and then the state-wide catalog, but found no matches.

Then I went online to see if I could find anything at all, and also to double-check the spelling. A search on IMDb for "Titticutt Follies" redirected me to a 1967 film called "Titicut Follies." After reading the description, it seemed like the right film.

However, the trivia section also provided this information:

The only American film banned from release for reasons other than obscenity or national security, Titicut Follies was filmed inside the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater, a prison hospital for the criminally insane. After the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sued the filmmakers, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the film constituted was an invasion of inmate privacy and ordered the withdrawal of the film from circulation.

Wow. I've helped people look for information on this hospital before, because of the bad conditions and treatment of the patients, but I'd never heard of this film.

A bit more from Wikipedia:

[Frederick] Wiseman, the film's director...believes that the Massachusetts Government, feeling concerned that it portrayed a state institution in a bad light, took the film out of circulation to protect their own reputation. In 1992, it was allowed to be shown on PBS. The film is now legally available through the distributor (Zipporah Films, Inc.), for purchase or rental on VHS or 16mm film for educational license only.

A few WorldCat libraries have this item, but after reading these descriptions, the patron decided not to request it after all.

bridgewater, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, titicut follies

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/26/07”

  1. jessamyn Says:

    They used to show this film at Hampshire College when I was there every few years. I never saw it but heard that it was quite disturbing.

  2. Jessica Says:

    You get the most interesting questions – I’m totally jealous.

    This sounds like a very interesting – and disturbing – film. I must see it now.

  3. Heather Rayl Says:

    I saw this film as an undergraduate in a sociology class.

    It was indeed highly disturbing.

    I remember crying in class, and most of us were silent after it was over.

  4. Steve Vender Says:

    I waited twenty-five years to see Titicut Follies, and when I finally saw it I understood why the people responsible for the hideous things at Bridgewater tried to prevent the public from seeing it. It is one of the most incredible, revealing films of institutional sadism ever made. I am a private investigator who specializes in criminal defense work, so I have witnessed the crimes of institutions run by the State over the years, but Wiseman’s film still astounds me.