Typically gathering thousands of feet of film after each project (equating hundreds of hours), Frederick Wiseman’s formidable harvests can spend a year in the cutting room. A pursuit of meaning follows, locating the dramatic pertinence behind deceivingly disassociated moments. Hospital (1971) underwent nine months of construction. In less than 90 minutes, a variegated look at the daily encounters of a New York City emergency ward and outpatient clinic unfold.
If Max Ophüls had made only Madame de… his place in this cinephile’s firmament would be assured. I first saw the film on 16mm, a scratched and worn offering at a student film society screening. By any standards a dismal presentation: scratched, dirty, excessively contrast – the unlovely fruit of shoddy reduction from 35mm. The sound was also hard to take: voices and effects competing with hiss and endless crackle and pop.
Then a night or two ago I saw the new 4K digital restoration. Image-wise it was amazing how much detail was revealed – and how fine the grain! All this is in stark contrast to even the best 35mm film prints, which wobble slightly (a phenomenon called ‘weave’) and jump very slightly when passing from shot to shot (‘neg hops’ because joins are never perfect). The 4K pictures were steady as a rock – algorithms in the restoration process had wiped out weave and hop . All this seemed like a marvellous service to Ophüls whose attention to detail, and technical command of the medium with ravishing, serpentine camera choreographies and brilliantly layering of foreground and background are such endless delight.