In Jackson Heights

In Jackson Heights ★★★★★

The greatest film of this year has been released, and it’s going upsettingly unseen. That film is Frederick Wiseman’s 3-hour documentary epic, In Jackson Heights. It is a dazzling, immersive, daring, much-needed look at the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens, NYC: the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the world (167 languages are spoken there) and a microcosm for America itself. It is perhaps the most accurate representation of our homogenized times, and the most beautifully American American movie since Robert Altman’s Nashville came out in 1975. This should be required viewing for every American citizen who wants to learn more about the stark reality of our pressing times.

With In Jackson Heights, Wiseman positions himself in the space of all those magnificent fresco painters (Giotto), world-immersing writers (Faulkner), and mosaic moviemakers (Altman, Jacques Tati) that came before him. Like those artists, Wiseman wishes to represent every and all perspectives that his artist’s eye will allow. The multitudinous everythingness of his humming Jackson Heights neighborhood gives the impression of the world in one small, obscure pocket of the world, existing underneath the surface without bothering anyone. Wiseman collapses space and time in remarkably poetic ways. Nagging background noises of cars and trucks passing by on the street start to take on an oceanic quality, like waves of watery sound washing in and out of the urban sprawl of New York. LGBT flags reflect a rainbow spectrum of colors that extends to the peacock colors of the neighborhood. Gold (a Colombian soccer fan’s jersey), murky grey (a Muslim’s turban), washed-out crimson (the aforementioned Korean flower shop), and hot-pink (Councilman Danny Dromm’s boa during the Gay Pride Parade where he loudly belts out Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly!”)—these are the hues of our world, taken for granted every day we walk down the street, but made relevant and alive again through Wiseman’s stimulated camera.

The spirit of documentary filmmaking rests with Wiseman. With In Jackson Heights, he has revitalized a type of filmmaking often in danger of degrading into clichéd talking heads, moody shots, and somber narration. Not only has he made one of the best films of this year, he has made a crucial social document of our times. Jackson Heights is us.

For more on what makes In Jackson Heights a masterpiece of modern cinema, check out my longer piece for the Stanford Arts Review.

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