Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights On Blu

Another year, another brand new documentary from the master Frederick Wiseman. And I think In Jackson Heights is his most involving and even entertaining in a long time. As its title plainly states, Wiseman applies his famous approach to the neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY. If In Jackson Heights has a theme, it's multiculturalism. What we see here is perhaps the most diverse group of races and religions you'll ever find in a single community. And encouragingly, they all seem to be getting along. We're taken into Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious gatherings, and we hear a different language spoken in practically every scene. But thankfully, this is no sentimental PSA, this is another engrossing exercise in commentary-free observation.
Wiseman takes on a larger microcosm here than he's done with most of his previous films, though of course we've had Belfast, Maine and Aspen before. We're left with a less of a comprehensive understanding of the environments studied in films like National Gallery or La Comédie-Française ou L'amour joué, where we seem to examine the system and interactions on from all angles. There's just far too much that has to be outside this film's scope. Anytime you film one event, you miss out on tons of others. But, it means Wiseman is given a lot more to work with.
Like, Boxing Gym is my least favorite of Wiseman's films. It still has its moments, and I won't be kicking the DVD out of my collection; but far too much of the time I just feel like we're watching people go through their basic workout routines. Here, when Wiseman pokes his camera into the local laundromat, we're not just filming people doing their laundry. There's an abrasive, impromptu music concert going on, and the people are having a panicked debate about looming gentrification. There's tons of things happening in Jackson Heights. Transgender people protest a bar they feel they've been discriminated against at, local business owners find out they're going to be driven out by their landlords, a woman at a senior center questions why she hasn't committed suicide, an immigrant tells a harrowing tale of how her sister almost died crossing the border, the mayor gets a sexy singing telegram on his birthday. Wiseman's a master at letting us be the fly on the wall of wherever turns his focus, and this time he's found us a wall that's really hopping.
This August, Wiseman's own Zipporah films has given this film its official home video debut on both DVD and blu-ray. Despite the DVD-shaped artwork at the top of this post, we're actually looking at the blu-ray. It just comes in a DVD-sized case. Oh, and by blu-ray, I mean an MOD BD-R. All Zipporah releases have been DVD-Rs and BD-Rs, so this is no surprise. At least it's a dual-layer BD-R, considering the film's over three hours long; but I have to say I couldn't get it to play on my PC... It started but immediately started stopping and starting right from the first minute. I thought I might've just gotten a bad burn, but then it played all the way through on my Panasonic player, so I guess it's as good as you're going to get from a non-manufactured blu-ray disc. And if you do get a bad burn, like I did on one of their older titles, I have to say their customer service and return policy is exemplary.
In Jackson Heights looks pretty good in HD, though. The presentation is slightly matted to 1.85:1, and I think the screenshots speak pretty well for themselves. At this point, Wiseman is shooting on digital, and this is coming straight from Zipporah themselves, so I think it's safe to assume this is a pretty faithful representation of their DCP.  As with every release of any of Wiseman's films, there are no extras here. Even when other labels attempt it, that's his decree. We are offered the option of two audio tracks, however: Dolby stereo or a 5.1 mix. So that's nice, anyway. Challengingly small English subtitles are burned into every non-English speaking scene.
Zipporah's not going to win many new converts selling featureless BD-Rs at $45 (and that's before shipping!) a pop, but at this point, I suppose they're comfortable with that. Zipporah's releases are strictly for Wiseman's devoted following. And that's cool; I get it. But it's a bit of a shame, because I think, out of his recent catalog, this would've been the film most likely to net him those new converts. And we really shouldn't be having an entire generation miss out on this man's work.

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