Frederick Wiseman Pauline Kael - Essay

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Hospital] was made at Metropolitan Hospital in New York, but although the hospital conditions are not pretty, it is not an exposé of man's inhumanity to man. The revelation of Hospital is the many surprising forms of man's humanity to man…. It is a melting-pot hospital, and the film demonstrates that the melting-pot dream has to some degree been fulfilled. There are so many human gestures within the misery, such as the solemn "Thank you"s of aged poor patients for whom speech is no longer easy. The general decency of the staff toward the patients may shake cynics…. Their occasional crudeness, even roughness, seems to be part of a recognition of the facts of life for the poor in a big city. Only rarely (as with a doctor treating a student on a bad trip) does one have any doubt that they're people of good will doing their damnedest. (p. 101)

At the beginning, Hospital seems almost a random view, but as the scenes and details begin to accumulate, the vision takes hold. By the end, we are so thoroughly involved—in a way I think we rarely are in conventional, guided documentary—that tears well up, because we simply have no other means of responding to the intensity of this plain view of the ordinary activities in Metropolitan Hospital. The habitual cant and concealments of most documentaries seem, by contrast, chintzy and puritanical and fundamentally insulting. Movies that spare our feelings assume that there are things we are ashamed to look at. Hospital doesn't spare our feelings, and—I don't know exactly how or why—it seems to clean away the shame. We've gone through the barriers of middle-class good taste, and it's better on the other side. (p. 102)

Pauline Kael, "The Man Who Loved War" (originally published as "The Current Cinema: 'Hospital'," in The New Yorker, Vol. XLV, No. 50, January 31, 1970), in her Deeper into Movies (© 1970 by Pauline Kael; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company in association with the Atlantic Monthly Press), Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1973, pp. 97-102.∗