Medium Cool

Medium Cool

5.0 1
Director: Haskell Wexler

Cast: Haskell Wexler, Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz

     
 

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"I love to shoot film" is the sanguine motto of TV lensman John Cassellis (Robert Forster) in Haskell Wexler's 1969 Medium Cool, a semi-documentary investigation of image-making and politics. With his soundman, Gus (Peter Bonerz), John films such events as gruesome car wrecks with frosty detachment, considering himself a mere recorder of circumstances, his onlySee more details below

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Overview

"I love to shoot film" is the sanguine motto of TV lensman John Cassellis (Robert Forster) in Haskell Wexler's 1969 Medium Cool, a semi-documentary investigation of image-making and politics. With his soundman, Gus (Peter Bonerz), John films such events as gruesome car wrecks with frosty detachment, considering himself a mere recorder of circumstances, his only responsibility to get his film in on time. Even his girlfriend, Ruth (Marianna Hill), cannot understand or penetrate John's complacency. Encounters with signs of the late '60s times, however, raise John's consciousness about the implications of his job, as he films a verbal attack by black militants on the media's racism, gets fired after he objects to having that footage turned over to the FBI, and meets Vietnam War widow Eileen (Verna Bloom). John witnesses the violence of the state firsthand as he and Eileen search for her son amidst the real-life demonstrations and riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Even though he realizes the political power of pointing a camera at anything, John finally cannot extricate himself or his loved ones from a culture obsessed with recording any sensational, gory incident. Scripted (from a novel by Jack Couffer), directed, and shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer and political activist Wexler, Medium Cool systematically questions the ideological power of images by combining documentary techniques such as "talking heads" and cinéma vérité with staged scenes between the actors. By the time Wexler and his crew start filming Forster and Bloom among the actual events at the convention, all barriers between fiction and fact are broken down, as Wexler's assistant can be heard warning, "Watch out, Haskell, it's real," when tear gas is thrown. The footage of cops clubbing people in the crowd is real, but Wexler's presence also turns it into part of a fictional story, revealing filmed "reality" to be as artificially constructed as any other fiction, subject to the interpretation of whoever holds the camera and, perhaps, to larger institutions of power. Funding Medium Cool partly out of his own resources, Wexler had free reign during production, but when the execs at Paramount saw the result, they were not pleased. Despite the timely subject matter, Paramount delayed and then curtailed the film's release, tempering its impact on critics and audiences. Regardless of that record, Medium Cool stands as a vital late-'60s film for its incisive narrative and formal dissection of the visual politics of "truth," and its awareness of how coolly seductive televised violence might be as entertainment, especially in a historical moment marked by incendiary images of political assassinations, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and counterculture protests.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
Few documents in any medium captured the political unrest of the late '60s with greater clarity than Medium Cool, a remarkably accomplished directorial effort from award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Wexler took to the streets of Chicago with a film crew to record how the city prepared for the 1968 Democratic Convention, and he put himself in the middle of the violent clashes between police and protestors that went on to define that event. Wexler then wove this material into a narrative about John (Robert Forster), a TV news cameraman whose ability to observe impartially the events around him is challenged by the violence of the riots, as well as by his relationship with Eileen (Verna Bloom), a young widow whose husband died in Vietnam. While it's no surprise that Wexler's footage of actual events bears the ring of truth, his staged sequences have a rough, improvised quality that meshes perfectly with the real-life sequences, and the result is a work that blurs the lines between fact and fiction. Wexler's mix of visual polemics, on-the-spot documentary, human drama, Brechtian disorientation, media-savvy analysis of television, and fashionable sex, drugs, and rock & roll made Medium Cool as intelligent and challenging as anything Jean-Luc Godard produced in Europe at the time, and Wexler's film has for the most part better withstood the test of time. It's a shame that Wexler directed so few features after Medium Cool, but, as both a work of art and a document of a central moment in American history, it remains an essential and invaluable film.

Product Details

Release Date:
05/21/2013
UPC:
0715515106313
Original Release:
1969
Source:
Criterion
Region Code:
A
Time:
1:50:00
Sales rank:
2,854

Special Features

New, restored 4K digital film transfer, approved by director Haskell Wexler, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; Two audio commentaries, one featuring Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding, and actor Marianna Hill, and the other featuring historian Paul Cronin; New interview with Wexler; Extended excerpts from "Look Out Haskell, It's Real!," a documentary by Cronin about the making of Medium Cool, featuring interviews with Wexler; Golding; actors Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, and Robert Forster; Chicago historian Studs Terkel; and others; Excerpts from Sooner or Later, Cronin's documentary about Harold Blankenship, who plays Harold in the film; "Medium Cool" revisited, a new half-hour video by Wexler about the Occupy movement's protests against the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago; Trailer; ; Plus: ; A booklet featuring an essay by film critic and programmer Thomas Beard

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Robert Forster John
Verna Bloom Eileen
Peter Bonerz Gus
Marianna Hill Ruth
Harold Blankenship Harold
Charles Geary Buddy, Harold's Father
Sid McCoy Frank Baker
Christine Bergstrom Dede
William Sickinger News Director
Robert McAndrew Pennybaker
Marrian Walters Social Worker
Beverly Younger Rich Lady
Edward Croke Plainclothesman
Doug Kimball Newscaster
Peter Boyle Gun Clinic Manager
Sandra Ann Roberts Blonde in Car
Janet Langhart Maid
Jeff Donaldson Black Militant
Bill Sharp Black Militant
Robert Paige Black Militant
Richard Abrams Black Militant
Walter Bradford Black Militant
Russell Davis Black Militant
Felton Perry Black Militant
Val Grey Black Militant
Livingston Lewis Black Militant
John M. Jackson Black Militant
Linda Handelman Gun Clinic Lady
Maria Friedman Gun Clinic Lady
Kathryn Schubert Gun Clinic Lady
Barbara Brydenthal Gun Clinic Lady
Elizabeth Moisant Gun Clinic Lady
Rose Bormacher Gun-Clinic Ladies
China Lee Actor
Nancy Lee Noble Kennedy Student
Haskell Wexler Cameraman on Scaffold
Barbara Jones Black militant
James H. Jacobs Kennedy student
Mary Smith Kennedy student
George Bouillet Media person
Studs Terkel Our Man in Chicago

Technical Credits
Haskell Wexler Director,Cinematographer,Producer,Screenwriter
Michael Bloomfield Score Composer
Leon Ericksen Art Director
Verna Fields Editor
Wendell Franklin Asst. Director
Tully Friedman Producer
Michael D. Margulies Camera Operator
Chris Newman Sound/Sound Designer
Kay Rose Sound Editor

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