Ex Libris: New York Public Library review – the restless mind of the city

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A treasured US institution opens itself to the painstaking view of fly-on-the-wall master Frederick Wiseman, who finds enlightenment, humour, compassion and soul within its walls

Frederick Wiseman, who can reasonably be called one of the most groundbreaking film-makers still working, has spent his entire career taking deep dives on very specific topics. It’s maybe something of a punchline that now, at age 87, his latest subject is everything.

For over 50 years Wiseman’s all-seeing, fly-on-the-wall cinema has visited institutions (a psychiatric hospital, a park, a museum, a concert venue, a school), gobbled it all up and served it back in an edited form that, while avoiding a traditional three-act structure, links sequences that build to a rich, almost-transcendent understanding. Lord knows others ape the style, but few compare.

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