s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

‘Monrovia, Indiana” does not sound like a scintillating topic for a documentary. But in the hands of Frederick Wiseman, you never get what you expect.

America’s premier documentarian, the 88-year-old has made more than 40 films about various aspects of this country’s life and times over a career that’s lasted more than half a century.

Wiseman’s done it, among other reasons, by giving his formidable curiosity free rein. Who are these people, he in effect asks each time out, what is it like for them on the ground? If he never knows what he’s going to discover, neither do we.

The director has never before shot a film in the rural Midwest, and though the 2016 election and the current administration are never even referred to, it’s possible that the contest’s revelation of the yawning gap between rural and urban fueled this inquisitive exploration of what small-town America looks like.

A modest farming community of some 1,400 souls not too far from Indianapolis, Monrovia came to Wiseman’s attention almost by chance, and he and long-time cinematographer John Davey ended up filming there for nine weeks, sampling a great deal of what the town has on offer.

The result is surprisingly companionable and enjoyable, an unhurried look at a location that is in no kind of rush, a place that is concerned most of all with preserving the way it’s always been.

Davey has been Wiseman’s secret weapon for decades, and his work is especially strong here. Noteworthy is the way Davey provides gorgeous images of Monrovia’s rural setting, some of the most striking of Wiseman’s entire career.

“Monrovia, Indiana” opens with a montage of the Midwest of myth: barns, silos, cozy farmhouses and beautiful blue skies. There are cows, lots of cows, and even a pig farm where a lone worker walks among the porkers spraying a red mark on those headed for the end of days.

Tiny though it is, Monrovia has a sense of its own history — class photos in the local high school date back to 1884 — and a teacher in one class gives an impassioned chronology (to somewhat bored students) of the town’s close connection with basketball history.

UCLA’s legendary John Wooden, as it turns out, spent some of his childhood years here, and the great coach Branch McCracken (if you’ve never heard of him, don’t let on around here) was a proud native son.

The town’s Main Street and environs look exactly the way you’d expect, and we spend time with the locals in a variety of establishments, including Hot Rod’s Barber Shop, Stinger’s Tattoos and Dawg House Pizza (the high school mascot is the bulldog).

In each of these establishments and more (including a disconcerting dog tail bobbing at the local vet’s), the emphasis is on busy hands skillfully at work. If idle hands are the devil’s playthings, there’s not much leeway for the forces of darkness here.

One thing folks in Monrovia spend time on is thinking about fellow residents. Over at the Monrovia Lions Club, members are weighing options about the best place in town to place a commemorative bench.

Meanwhile, members of Masonic Lodge Chapter 654 are giving an Award of Gold to one of their own for 50 years of service to the organization. “He’s a good friend to many and a stranger to few,” one speaker says, a turn of phrase not usually heard in major metropolitan areas.

For those concerned with earthly things, one of the most fascinating aspects of “Monrovia” is its visits to City Council meetings, where, as in Los Angeles, growth is on the agenda.

But growth there is different than growth here, and a plan to add 150-plus houses, which might mean adding another 300 to 500 people, is a big deal in a town of 1,400.

No one wants the town to die, as pro-growth speakers fear might happen. But after spending two hours and 23 minutes (brief for a Wiseman film) embedded in “Monrovia, Indiana,” it is not difficult to understand why those who live there just don’t want the place to change.

Show Comment