Saturday, December 10, 2016
John Marshall’s Pittsburgh Police Series

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Pittsburgh Police Series, John Marshall, 16mm and digital projection, 1971-1973, 399 mins

Light Industry, in collaboration with Metrograph, presents a rare screening of John Marshall’s complete Pittsburgh Police Series, which stands with Frederick Wiseman’s Law and Order, Alan and Susan Raymond’s The Police Tapes, and Stan Brakhage’s Eyes as one of the crucial episodes in the history of documenting the American police system. Hailed by Jean Rouch as "one of the most extraordinary anthropological filmmakers,” Marshall is best known as the cinematographer and co-director, with Wiseman, of Titicut Follies and for the 23 ethnographic films he made among the !Kung people of the Kalahari, completed over the course of almost half a century. Shot in 1969-70 and produced under the aegis of the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis, Marshall’s 17-film Pittsburgh police cycle is a remarkable and revealing ridealong ethnography of law enforcement, a many-sided study of state power, social control, and private tragedy played out on a human scale.

The camera here is nimble but unobtrusive, fully immersing the viewer in the action it records, whether it’s a raid on a teenage party in After the Game, questioning an erratic driver in Henry Is Drunk, or following up on reports of domestic violence in the case of Three Domestics. While the events largely take place on street patrols and at crime scenes, in some films Marshall also shows us the process of booking suspects at the station, courtroom exchanges, and retrospective commentary by legal experts about filmed police encounters, where, for instance, biases of race and gender are discussed at length.

Marshall’s black-and-white images—so full of anger, confusion, and muted despair—possess a kind of forensic poetry throughout, in the rich marginal details that exceed the evidentiary value of the matter at hand, or the chiaroscuro of the nighttime sequences where the proceedings are illuminated almost entirely by the steady, pulsing flashes of a squad car’s spinning lights. The individual sections of Marshall’s saga are often brief, unencumbered by narration, and sometimes startling in their intimacy. Yet there always seems to be another story, beyond the frame, outside our view; the root of the problem, these films continually suggest, ultimately lies elsewhere.

In Vagrant Woman, one of the most powerful entries in the series, the title’s subject is surrounded by cops who insist she can’t sleep in her car. Her poise, in the face of their callous interrogation, is extraordinary. In slow, soft tones she attempts to explain her situation, how she fled an eviction and an unfaithful husband, how she’s been attending Mass. The officers, incredulous, say that even a cheating spouse must be better than a life on the streets. “Haven’t you heard of forgive and forget?”, one barks. Faced with the the threat of arrest, she’s offered a bed at the Salvation Army, though by this point it’s become clear that freedom is what she really wants, and what still eludes her.

Vagrant Woman, 1971, 16mm, 8 mins
A Forty Dollar Misunderstanding, 1973, digital projection, 8 mins
Nothing Hurt But My Pride, 1973, digital projection, 15 mins
Youth and the Man of Property, 1973, digital projection, 7 mins
Inside/Outside Station Nine, 1970, digital projection, 90 mins

Wrong Kid, 1973, digital projection, 4 mins
After the Game, 1973, digital projection, 9 mins
Three Domestics, 1971, 16mm, 30 mins
Investigation of a Hit and Run, 1972, 16mm, 56 mins
The Informant, 1973, 16mm, 24 mins

The 4th and 5th and the Exclusionary Rule, 1973, 16mm, 57 mins

You Wasn’t Loitering, 1973, digital projection, 6 mins
Henry Is Drunk, 1973, digital projection, 7 mins
Twenty-One Dollars or Twenty-One Days, 1973, digital projection, 8 mins
Manifold Controversy, 1973, digital projection, 3 mins
Two Brothers, 1973, digital projection, 4 mins
901/904, 1972, digital projection, 65 mins

Prints courtesy of DER and Harvard Film Archive.

Tickets - $10, available at door. A single ticket is valid for entry to the entire day of screenings.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 1:30pm.