Welfare sees Frederick Wiseman’s steadfast gaze focus in on the operations of a single Manhattan government assistance office, right in the thick of the notoriously hard times that characterized New York City in the 1970s. When the needy (many desperately so) who line up in the early hours of the morning finally get a chance to speak with a government worker, a seemingly infinite maze of regulations comes into focus. Wiseman’s camera situates itself at the interface point between the office’s employees and visitors, attending to painfully drawn-out conversations that attempt to translate basic needs into line items–a Sisyphean task that often seems to reach no resolutions–as both parties become more deeply mired in the system’s bureaucracy.

Dir. Frederick Wiseman, 1975, 16mm, 167 min.

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