At Berkeley Reviews
Go ahead, roll your eyes at the above and dub it and/or me pretentious. But just because Frederick Wiseman's film is challenging and not Frederick's of Hollywood (LOL had to do it) doesn't mean it should be ignored. Actually, it deserves to be seen by any- and everyone. If ever there was a movie that gets you excited about the prospects of education, "At Berkeley" is it. An unbelievably dense yet picturesque novel-as-film with all the widescreen weight of a coffee table book -- its original 250 hours of footage directed, edited and produced to the nines by the legendary 83-year-old Wiseman -- certain people often (wrongly) forever stick to the ancient adage that "they don't make movies like they used to anymore." Yet with "At Berkeley" at least, that's precisely the sentiment it left me with. (95/100)
Not only does he capture the look and feel of the university, but also the prevailing issues that were in the air in the late years of the Birgeneau administration. To capture a timely profile of a unique university, Wiseman juxtaposes the administrative challenges presented by budget cuts with the myriad social challenges that prevailed within the thoughtful student body at the time. The snippets of various classroom discussions and debate and a profile of recent student protests are the most engaging. He also shuffles in atmospheric, setting establishment shots that actually resemble ones I made in my "C" montage series. Everything is realistic and this documentary presentation is really more of a time capsule record than a hard and heavy statement.
On the other hand the scenes that Wiseman chooses to include are never terribly out there, especially for an alumnus. Absent are revelations like the disturbingly relaxed ahuman pragmatism of the Bridgewater workers in Titicut Follies.
While it is not perfect or for the restless film fan, it stands as a priceless snapshot of UC Berkeley around the time I was attending. I believe it started filming in my second or third year there. I look forward to revisiting it in 10 years for a nice fuzzy feeling. (7 December 2013)