Five weeks with the Metropolitan Hospital in New York City; Frederick Wiseman enters mid-surgery. The staff is initially faceless, hidden behind surgical masks or in the shadows, the patients have the floor -- one man has his genitals examined and weeps in shame, another has a head wound and children alone at home, the elderly woman whose diabetes got her health policy turned down comes to resemble the doomed witch of Day of Wrath in a rough close-up. Gradually, the humanity of the doctors and nurses crystallizes: The hospital is a leaky vessel but its crew hangs on to compassion, emergency-ward treatment is only gauze applied to the wider gashes of the system, and the doctors' frustrated complaints to administration fall on deaf ears. Wiseman's feeling for the visceral rivals Titticut Follies, he locates human frailty evenly in the physical indignities endured by patients and the concern of frazzled staffers (a neglected baby blankly eats ice cream after having toddled out of a window, a concerned young nurse offers to care for him and is gently but promptly advised not to "get involved"). The cross-dressing "schizophrenic's" slurring monologue is framed against a Life magazine poster, though Wiseman's chief metaphor for troubled societal intestines (or, simply, for staying alive "at a certain level of civilization") remains the Minnesotan kid who, handed an ipecac to flush out a batch of putrid mescaline, keeps vomiting until the connection to Alice's Restaurant is established and he finally concludes "I think I should go back home." No less than Cronenberg's, Wiseman's edifice is a churning organism, its heart still beats but now who listens to it -- patients and staff are together in mass by the end, a zoom out the building is followed by a pan onto the highway, the singing is drowned by traffic. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce