City Paper is not for tourists
At the beginning of Frederick Wiseman’s characteristically extensive institutional study, the speaker of Idaho’s House of Representatives reaches for a ranching metaphor. Yet four hours later, as a bagpiper closes the session, the dominant impression is not of a place that’s remote or provincial. Despite Idaho’s reputation for hyperconservatism, both the people and the issues in this film could be inside-the-Beltway phenomena. Yes, someone is trying to get the Ten Commandments displayed in the statehouse, but the arguments against the proposal sound pretty much as they would in Annapolis or Albany, N.Y. And the other topics for discussion include restaurant smoking bans, proper disposal of high-tech trash, driving licenses for undocumented workers, and “video vorism” (which must be Idahoan for “voyeurism”). Indeed, both the arguments and the terrain—wood-paneled hearing rooms and a marble rotunda—are all too familiar. Plus, since most of the legislators and staffers are pros at public expression, unguarded moments are rarer than in other Wiseman films. Political junkies may be enthralled by the proceedings, but they probably won’t be surprised.