Courtesy of Zipporah Films

City Hall

Movie Information

This four-hour-plus doc about Boston city government is like being stuck in an endless Zoom meeting you wish you hadn't been invited to.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Starring: Marty Walsh
Rated: NR

After a brief visit to a Boston city government call center, the documentary City Hall rushes directly to its sweet spot — an extended PowerPoint budget presentation. Over the next 4 1/2 hours (you read that right), veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman lingers through dozens of such meetings, hearings, community forums, speeches and random encounters with Boston city workers. The doc was shot from October 2018 into early 2019 and portrays countless aspects of municipal government.

It is indeed a massive document, but whether it’s a documentary is open to question. Not a single person is identified. You’ll eventually figure out that the earnest, likable guy who keeps reappearing is Mayor Marty Walsh, but not one committee, speaker or event is named or put into context. There’s no narration, no original interviews and no follow-up for any of the myriad issues raised. Real estate montages of random Boston buildings — with an emphasis on dilapidated homes and quirky small businesses, apropos of nothing — separate the extended visits to boardrooms and cramped offices.

Numerous city residents are seen at hearings — again, unidentified — but only a few are actually permitted to share snippets of their lives. A couple of characters unspool stories about why they shouldn’t pay parking tickets, some dog owners appear in a pointless drop-by at an animal shelter and one sad retiree explains his apartment’s rat infestation to a city worker (job unknown). That’s about it.

Mostly, City Hall is 275 minutes of talk, talk, talk, talk, talk — a lot of it in impenetrable bureaucrat-speak or empty public relations mode. If the idea was to relate how dull the grind of city governance can be, it’s well done. But there’s no sense of a filmmaker’s point of view, no thread of narrative and little actual information. It’s like being stuck in an endless Zoom meeting to which you wish you had not been invited.

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