Blu-Ray Review – Medium Cool (1969)

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Some films just capture the zeitgeist of times more than others and few do so as well as Medium Cool when it came out in 1969. Jean-Luc Godard is often considered by many to be the director of the ’60s but Medium Cool is more radical cinematically and politically than anything he did in his Maoist phase in the mid to late ’60s. Medium Cool was directed by the cinematographer Haskell Wexler who was one of the premiere cinematographers of the ’60s and ’70s and still does impressive work today.

Medium Cool is set during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 and if anybody knows their history; it became a riot and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson who was sent to cover it came home and cried (which he never did) because of the police brutality. Medium Cool was shot on location during the convention so it combines seamlessly fiction and non-fiction content and the film’s characters are even a combination fictional and non-fictional. Robert Forster who would have later day success with his work with Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch plays the fictional Television news cameraman John Cassellis and the film opens with an iconic scene where him and some other TV crew members discuss whether they should film a gruesome accident or try to help save the victim’s life.

Wexler took a then decidedly hip approach to the film’s aesthetic, he uses for the most part a cinéma vérité style which was very common place in both documentary filmmaking at the time like the work of Maysles brothers and the French New Wave. Medium Cool was released the same year as the film that often is considered to have picked off the New Hollywood of the ’70s, Easy Rider but that film which is fun stick it to the man hippy flick but it lacks any of the real sociopolitical power Medium Cool has and the film despite being very much a product of its time it still seems relevance to a modern audience. It works for a modern audience due to the increasing militarization of the police force and the stripping of the right to Protest in the US and UK.

The film for a long time was extremely hard to obtain, there was an out of print Region 1 DVD (which I had) but not until the Criterion release a couple of years ago was it easy to buy and as far as I can tell it was never released even on VHS in the UK. Masters of Cinema uses the majority of the Criterion features mostly notable an hour-long condensed version of the 6-hour making of documentary Look Out Haskell, It’s Real!. The disc also includes commentary from Wexler, an interview with Harold Blankenship and an interview where Wexler shows us the cameras he used on the filming of Medium Cool. The booklet includes a summary of the government report on the Democratic Nation Convention riots.

Ian Schultz
Drama | USA, 1969 | 18 | Eureka Entertainment | 31st August 2015 (UK) |Dir.Haskell Wexler | Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, Marianna Hill |Buy: Dual Format (DVD & Blu-ray)