WELFARE shows the nature and complexity of the welfare system in sequences illustrating the staggering diversity of problems that constitute welfare: housing, unemployment, divorce, medical...
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WELFARE shows the nature and complexity of the welfare system in sequences illustrating the staggering diversity of problems that constitute welfare: housing, unemployment, divorce, medical and psychiatric problems, abandoned and abused children, and the elderly. These issues are presented in a context where welfare workers as well as clients struggle to cope with and interpret the laws and regulations that govern their work and life.
"Welfare" is the fourth Frederick Wiseman documentary I've seen and they have all been outstanding. The others I've watched, "Primate", "Law and Order", and "Titticut Follies" I would rank slightly above "Welfare" for the simple reason that they are harder hitting films. "Welfare" is very long and totally mesmerizing but it's all about the process of waiting and people drifting endlessly through the system. It's all conversations between welfare caseworkers and people who are trying to get their checks.
As usual, Wiseman finds some of most astonishing footage imaginable. Some of the stuff its hard to fathom how he managed to film it. You wonder if the people knew they were being filmed, and if so, did they care? They don't seem to. It was shot in 1974, and presumably on film, so the cameras would have been noticeable. The thing I love about Wiseman is that he doesn't stand in judgement. He just shows. And when you expect his camera to pull away it doesn't. And then something even more astonishing happens.
Admittedly, in "Welfare" the astonishment is on a more subtle level than in some of his other films. There are no moments that make your jaw drop in horror at the human condition like in Wiseman's "Law and Order" when two cops chokehold a cowering prostitute into oblivion or the nightmarish talent show in "Titticut Follies".
The moments that stand out in "Welfare" are the smaller ones. The way one couple's story about how badly they need their welfare check slowly dissolves as they get caught in one lie after another. The hippie girl who complains about her apartment being declared an unfit home for her infant just because her boyfriend's "diseased" dog also lives there. The way one caseworker (who seems like a wimp at first) is able to firmly (and justly) stick up for one of his cases.
But the real treat of seeing a Frederick Wiseman documentary cannot fully be described in words. I think he is the greatest documentary filmmaker in history. His films are truly like social x-rays. Every one of his films I've seen is far and away better than any other documentary I've seen by any other filmmaker.
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