Titicut Follies is a 1967 American documentary film directed by Frederick Wiseman, about the treatment of inmates/patients at Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, a Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The title is taken from a talent show put on by the hospital's inmates.
The documentary portrays some of the occupants catatonic, holed up in unlit cells, and only periodically washed. It also depicts inmates/patients required to strip naked publicly, force feeding, and indifference and bullying on the part of many of the institution's staff.
In 1968, Massachusetts Superior Court judge Harry Kalus ordered the film yanked from distribution and called for all copies to be destroyed, citing the state's concerns about violations of the patients' privacy and dignity. Wiseman has pointed out that he received permission from all of the people portrayed in the film or else their legal guardian, in this case the superintendent of Bridgewater. He believes that the government of Massachusetts, concerned that the film portrayed a state institution in a bad light, intervened to protect its own reputation. The state intervened after a social worker in Minnesota wrote to Governor John Volpe expressing shock at a scene involving a naked man being taunted by a guard.
The dispute marked the first known instance in the history of the American film industry that a film was banned from general distribution for reasons other than obscenity, immorality or national security. It was also the first time that Massachusetts recognized a right to privacy at the state level. Wiseman stated that, "The obvious point that I was making was that the restriction of the court was a greater infringement of civil liberties than the film was an infringement on the liberties of the inmates."
Little changed until 1987, when the families of seven inmates who died at the hospital sued the hospital and state. Steven Schwartz represented one of the inmates. Schwartz's client who was "restrained for 2 ½ months and given six psychiatric drugs at vastly unsafe levels - - choked to death because he could not swallow his food." Schwartz claims that, "There is a direct connection between the decision not to show that film publicly and my client dying 20 years later, and a whole host of other people dying in between." In fact, "In the years since Mr. Wiseman made 'Titicut Follies', most of the nation's big mental institutions have been closed or cut back by court orders." In addition, "the film may have also influenced the closing of the institution featured in the film."