Medium Cool (1969) Poster

(1969)

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9/10
Something very special...
nicjaytee22 July 2005
Absorbing, thought provoking and, above all, a unique record of an important "place & time", why "Medium Cool" still fails to gain the attention it deserves remains one of life's great mysteries.

First off, it's a pretty good if somewhat disjointed story… two "world-wise" middle class news reporters are sent to film the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and become unwittingly involved in its political demonstrations, the inner city problems that have precipitated them, and the lives of a single mother and her young son in this harsh, confusing and seriously under-privileged world. Its acting, in particular from Robert Forster as the lead reporter and the 13 year old Harold Blankenship as the son, is excellent and at times so effective that it's difficult to remember you're watching a rigidly sequenced film rather than a social documentary. And, it's overlaid with some quite stunning cinema-photography from director Haskell Wexler, one of America's very best exponents of the art, backed up by a perfectly pitched late 60's soundtrack.

Good enough so far, but that's just the start. Add-in its extensive live footage from the streets of Chicago as the riots develop, taken by the film's camera crew as they themselves are caught-up in a very "real" political drama, its ominous sequencing of the build up of events from a fun "day in the park" for the hippies/yippies to serious "police state" level violence, its equally chilling images of what was going on inside the Convention Hall while all of this was taking place, and the clever and disturbing scenes of the mother's desperate search for her lost son as Wexler films her within the increasingly anarchic crowds of demonstrators & troops actually on the streets at the time, and you've got… something very special.

Part film and part documentary, not all of what you think is "real" in "Medium Cool" is, and the lines between live and acted scenes are sometimes confusingly and frustratingly blurred, as in the famous call from one of the camera crew of "look out Haskell this is real" as a tear gas canister lands in front of them, which was in fact over-dubbed afterwards. But that's the whole point of the film as the final, almost startling scenes reveal. How far is the media in control? Is what you're seeing real, distorted or contrived? Wexler's brilliance is to take this underlying theme and to mould it into a fascinating exploration of inner city life, American society in a period of huge change, and the power/needs of the media in a TV dominated world, while, in parallel, producing a gripping record of what it's like to be in the centre of a demonstration that's spiralling out of control. Juxtaposing the impersonality of reporting with the very personal situations that are involved, it raises a whole series of questions on the way without falling into the trap of most films of the era in trying to ram home too many answers. And, as a result, it remains as relevant today as it did then.

Quite rightly regarded as one of the best "counter culture" films of the late 60's and much richer and more thought provoking than this classification usually implies, it remains one of the most under-rated films out there.
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An Indie if there ever was one.
Doctor_Bombay15 April 1999
Interesting approach to revealing the world of photo-journalism, news journalism, and political activism, conceived and directed by award–winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Fictional narrative features a Chicago TV news crew intertwined with actual news footage in and around the Democratic Convention of 1968.

There is a good balance between the fiction and non-fiction elements in as much as Wexler attempts to make his point. The fictional story line (a love story) is real enough to keep us watching and deflective enough to make the harsh realities of the non-fiction elements palatable.

Attention to detail defines Medium Cool as a very personal film for Wexler. There definitely is a political perspective. Second and third viewings will call attention to painstaking perfectionism in construction of shots, timing, and pace--the subject matter and cinematic approach (low budget, hand-held, docu-style) may suggest a `student film' so don't be confused. This is an extremely well-crafted highly professional product. Nice interjects of great era-defining music compliment the visuals.

Inventive, some say ground-breaking, certainly well worth watching.
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9/10
a totally original pastiche
jonathan-57718 March 2009
A rare directorial outing by all-time great cinematographer Wexler, this is generally acknowledged as the most politically radical film ever produced by a major studio. In freewheeling, semi-improvised, ideologically calculated scene after scene, it depicts an apolitical television cameraman's awakening of consciousness and abandonment of the role of passive observer. The class and race politics are four notches up on any comparable contemporary studio feature, that's for sure - with the surprisingly patient explanation of how 6-o-clock-news ideology oppresses minority communities, leading in to a love affair with a working-class single mother instead of some vanguard hippie, you could even argue that this Americanization of Godard has better ideological legs than the master himself. Sure it meanders a tad, and the stylistics can date, but there's nothing else in any movie ever that compares with the climax, as the actors make their way through actual documentary footage of the 1968 Democratic convention and attendant street battles. I mean, how did such a finely balanced mix of integrated narrative, Euro-tics, American underground film and straight-up documentary even occur to them? And how did they then manage to actually pull it off with honors? Pretty damned impressive.
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8/10
MEDIUM COOL (Haskell Wexler, 1969) ***1/2
Bunuel197623 August 2006
A brilliant film and a seminal one - a product by a major Hollywood studio handled in cinema-verite' style; besides, the various issues it raises - social, political and media-related - have scarcely been treated with such directness and power. The lack of star names in the cast (Peter Boyle, who appears briefly, was not yet established and, even if he had debuted in John Huston's REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE [1967], lead Robert Forster's role was originally intended for John Cassavetes) certainly helps sell its inherent documentary feel.

Though, understandably, most meaningful to people who witnessed these turbulent times first-hand, and Americans in particular, despite its specific time-setting - Chicago 1968 (partly shot at the actual Democrats convention site, the film proved prophetic because the script involved riots breaking out...which is what actually happened!) - many of its concerns are still very much with us!! Fascinating therefore if slightly overlong - the subplot involving Verna Bloom and Harold Blankenship feels a bit like padding at first (and was actually what remained of a proposed film, with animal interest, about a poor country boy's adjustment to city life!)...but, ultimately, its point is made during the film's latter stages when Bloom goes to look for her missing son - creating an indelible image of a perplexed figure (incongruously dressed in a bright yellow outfit) getting embroiled in all the commotion hitting the streets at that same moment. This, however, results in a goof involving the unexplained presence very early on of Bloom (already wearing the yellow dress but whose introduction proper in the film takes place quite a bit later!) at a cocktail party for members of the press - a sequence intended to immediately precede the riots but which was then pushed forward during editing, so as to deal straight off with the film's major theme of media responsibility! The tragic yet ironic ending - presented as matter-of-factly as any of the news items covered by dispassionate TV cameraman Forster - is very effective.

This is certainly renowned cinematographer Wexler's most significant directorial effort; his camera-work (some of it hand-held) is simply incredible, as is Paul Golding's editing (which must have been quite a headache and, in fact, he mentions in the Audio Commentary that several scenes remained on the cutting-room floor; pity they weren't available for inclusion on the Paramount DVD - nor, apparently, were the rights to the 2001 documentary about the film, LOOK OUT HASKELL, IT'S REAL: THE MAKING OF 'MEDIUM COOL'!). Also essential to the unique texture of the film is the fantastic soundtrack (mostly by Mike Bloomfield but also featuring songs by Frank Zappa, among others).
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7/10
A groundbreaker
meebly20 January 1999
Haskell Wexler, a cinematographer by trade, practically invented the technique invented we know today as "cinema verite" with this striking drama that plays so much like a documentary, you'd never guess it was fiction without being told. It's less a story and more a voyeuristic look into the lives of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, in this case reporters who are covering a political convention and other Chicago locals who are just minding their own business when the legendary riots break out at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Even more groundbreaking is the approach Wexler takes in framing the film's final scenes. He had ample warning that there would potentially be some unrest at the convention, so he decided to thrust his cast right into the thick of it, sending them to the foyer and front entrance of the Chicago Convention Center and the crew right along to film the events. No one knew exactly what would happen, making this perhaps the most creative and timely piece of "improvised" drama in the history of filmmaking up to this point.

Every documentary filmmaker who chooses to make his/her film about actions and events rather than simply a bunch of talking heads owes a debt to Wexler and his creative team on "Medium Cool".
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8/10
A time capsule
TheTwistedLiver25 June 2008
This film is better upon the second viewing, the first time I saw this I thought it was somewhat dated or boring, I couldn't have been more wrong. Initially I watched this film because it was directed by Haskell Wexler whose work I admire, and I'm from Chicago and had heard it shows much of the city and the riots of 68. I enjoyed seeing the city forty years ago to see what was the same and what had changed, much has changed yet much remains the same from what I have seen of the people, places, buildings etc. It was great to see the Kinetic Playground on there, Chicago's electric ballroom, and other area's such as Lincoln Park. On the second viewing, I realized that this is a very important film in that it adroitly captures a moment in time, a moment we can never have again that is lost forever, that one second in our history that pivoted us as a nation between innocence and awareness and possibly that crucial moment which has brought us to the point we are at today. This movie is very important as a document of history, not to mention how well it's shot. The angles, the color, the way he goes in and out of focus make this a true gem that gets better the more you see it. Great soundtrack as well, Zappa, Mike Bloomfield and others.
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Fascinating Sixties Document
RobertF875 June 2004
This film is a mixture of documentary footage and conventional narrative.

It tells the story of a tough news camera-man (Robert Forster) who falls for a young widow (Verna Bloom) and befriends her thirteen-year-old son, against the back-drop of the riots in Chicago in 1968.

The film utilises both professional actors and non-professionals, to very good effect. In fact there are scenes, such as the riot sequences, where there is a genuine sense of danger.

The main flaw in the film is that the love story is not well-handled and often quite dull, the far more interesting events are happening elsewhere.

This is a deeply political work and is savagely critical of the callous and cynical media, which distorts people's perceptions of the world.

Worth watching for anyone interested in the sixties, political cinema or American independent film.

Great soundtrack too.
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Captures the time, place and feeling
GethinVanH23 May 2009
Movies have a way of capturing the moment better than recreating it. I can only dread what a recreated 1968 in Chicago would look like from a Hollywood perspective. It would probably resemble something out of Forrest Gump. But Medium Cool happened to capture some brutal fight scenes with police in Chicago as well as scenes from the black ghettos. You can't recreate this stuff. This isn't a documentary but cinema verité and combines fiction and non-fictional elements. It's all shot with Chicago of 68 in the background. A landmark and infamous year for the US with the assassinations of RFK and MLK as well as the 1968 Democratic National Convention which was met with severe state repression. The state wasn't negotiating at this time, it was brutally sending men off to war and attacking those at home with the hired goons of the police force.

It's a great movie which manages to combine fiction and non-fiction and shows us what the sixties were really like. It wasn't all love beads and LSD, although there is an amusing psychedelic sequence which takes place in a club.

I think what I liked most was that even people who were non-political were being dragged into the politics of the time. Events were that serious at the time and people had to begin picking sides, the pleasant, white, middle-class interior of the Chicago DNC or outside fighting and raging against the police.
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10/10
Superb integration of the political and social aspects inherent in the film medium.
gazer-313 August 1999
Haskell Wexler's film generated much debate on just where American Cinema was headed upon its release in 1969. Its narrative revolves loosely around the relationship of a TV cameraman and a lower-class widow living in Chicago during the summer of 1968. The true focus of the film is on the Democratic National Convention and its devastating effects on that city during the "long hot summer" it was subjected to. With the care of an expert social journalist Wexler films the riot caused by the civil authority in that city with an unfaltering naturalism that Soviet Realists would kill for. His cinematographic gifts are never called into question as he edits the body of the film with patches of documentary and staged scenes. It's to the credit of the filmmaker that in one section a fellow cameraman has to admonish him as to the danger he is apparently embroiled in as he shoots a sequence. This wonderful play on the reflexivity so rarely admitted in film is reason enough to give this challenging but brilliant work of art a chance to leave its mark on you.
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7/10
Little has changed since 1968
jakob1317 January 2016
The Criterion Collection has brought out a remastered, stunning 'Medium Cool'. America's answer to 'Cinema Verite'. Haskell Wexler's film could have been made yesterday, given the conditions in the US today. Although the technology of filming has changed drastically. In fact, given the success of 'Tangerine', it is easy to envision 'Medium Cool' shot exclusively on a Smartphone. Gone are the 40 pound cameras, the heavy television cameras set up at conventions, the one way voice boxes and the like. As Marshall McCluhan, the high priest and theorist of communication, posited: 'the medium is the message'. And Wexler took this guru's words to heart. We're in Chicago on the eve and during the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention. The story is half fiction half cinema truth, of a fun loving news photographer whose passion is the story and getting it right. Through his camera, we travel through the racial, economic and political stress and high drama of the times. (For good reporting, see Norman Mailer's 'Miami and the Siege of Chicago'). The 'hero' John Cassellis is shocked that his footage has been handed over by his employer to the FBI. So what else is new today? In scenes with blacks militants he is accused of being an undercover FBI agent, and they knew what they were talking about, for until then he was clueless. The world of the poor whites from the coal mines of West Virginia, the banter in the newsroom about the role of journalism. The spirit of the turbulent 60s has run out of steam but in some eddies here and there of on the fringe reporters, social media and streamed dailies or weeklies. And yet, documentaries are making a comeback, and showing the grim side of life and some moments of good works. Episodic as the film is, it is worth seeing, to see how everything old is new again
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10/10
I Wish I Could Make a Documentary Challenging Top Critics to Prove the Greater Imprint of Any Other Film of Its Decade.
jzappa22 June 2010
One of the most truthful moments I've seen in a film in a long time: We hear MLK speaking on TV, a professional cameraman watching. We hear King's immortal words which have resounded through the decades, and when Forster finally speaks, he says, "God, I love shooting on film." Medium Cool is full of moments like this, where we see or hear something that plugs into what we're truly thinking, disconcertingly enough, at times when what we're thinking seems to obviously be something else. In Medium Cool, we respond to these things and, some forty years later, aren't quite sure what's real and what's not. This most head-on and seemingly makeshift of films was released in 1969 to reaction and surmise. Five years before, it would have been deemed unintelligible to the general movie audience. What happened, I suppose, is that by then we'd become so trained by the quick-cutting, idea suggestion and stream of consciousness of concepts in TV commercials that we process more quickly than feature-length movies can move. We get cinematic fast-sketch. And we like movies that recognize our intelligence.

Traditional film narratives pronounce themselves: We know all the main techniques/content and archetypal characters. Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool is one of several movies of the late 1960s and '70s that's conscious of these things about movie audiences, like Seconds, Easy Rider, Mean Streets, Who's That Knocking At My Door, The Graduate, The French Connection, etc. Of the bunch, Medium Cool is probably the most visceral. That may be since Wexler, for most of his career, has been a cinematographer, and so he's conditioned to see a movie pertaining to what's being shown and not shown on-screen more than its dialogue and story.

Wexler fabricates a fictional story about the TV cameraman, his passion, his profession, his girl and her son. There is also documentary footage about the riots during the Democratic convention. There is a chain of conscious scenarios that supposes reality (women taking marksmanship practice, the TV crew confronting black militants). There are fictitious characters in actual documentary scenes and vice versa. The misstep would be to segregate the real-life elements from the made-up. They're all equally meaningful. The National Guard troops are no more real than the love scene, or the artificial collision that ends the film. All the images have significance due to the way they are connected to each other.

Wexler induces our recollection of the zillions of other movies we've seen to import things about his plot that he never elucidates on screen. The essential account of the romance (young professional falls in love with war-widow, eventually obtains companionship of her resentful son) is surely not innovative. If Wexler had formalized it, it would have been commonplace and dull. Rather, he specializes in the emblematic and important features of this histrionic (the boy likes pigeons, the woman is a teacher, the location is Uptown, the time is the Democratic convention, the woman feels more authentic to the cameraman than the model he's living with). And these are the scenes Wexler shoots. The leftovers of the relationship are implicit and never shown, eschewing the often essentially unnecessary 2 on our way from 1 to 3.

And Medium Cool also sees not images but their purpose: Wexler doesn't see the hippie kids in Grant Park as hippie kids. He doesn't see the clothes or the folkways, and he doesn't hear the words. He distinguishes their purpose; they are there completely owing to the National Guard being there, and the opposite. Both sides have a purpose just when they encounter one another. Without the encounter, all you'd have would be the kids, dispersed all over the country, and the guardsmen, dressed in civilian clothes and spending the week on their daily grinds. That's interesting too, but it's not what they are that's significant in this film; it's what they're doing there.

Medium Cool is ultimately so seminal, and engaging, owing to the way Wexler braids all these components together. He has made a nearly consummate model of the movie of its time. Since we are so conscious this is a movie, it feels more pertinent and authentic than the graceful fictitious artifice of most other films, including better ones. This befits the last scene all by itself, that chance event that occurs for no reason at all. Chance events are invariably chance events, not fate, not God's will, not karma, and they never occur for a greater purpose. When we get it, it hit me that it's the first movie collision I've ever seen that we weren't anticipating for five minutes before.
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10/10
"Medium Cool is an extraordinary piece of cinematic art of the cinema verite-film style by Haskell Wexler".
Jackkrsk30 June 2013
I often like to watch films more than once and I recently did that with Medium Cool, which was originally released on August 27, 1969.

The film was directed, written, and cinematography recorded by Haskell Wexler. He invented and used an unforgettable cinema vérité-style documentary filmmaking technique, as well as combining fictional and non-fictional content.

Medium Cool was actor Robert Forster's first film in a lead role. Medium Cool is one of those films that shows cinematic footage of a nonfictional event in the movie - the 1968 Democratic National Convention protest activity. At that convention the protesters and the Chicago Police Department fought in the streets of Chicago while the US Democratic Party met during the convention in the International Amphitheater.

John Cassellis (played by Forster) is a Chicago television news reporter and cameraman. Cassellis and sound man Gus (played by Peter Bonerz) are reporting about the violence and racial tensions in the ghetto. One of people that interviewed is an African American taxi driver who lives in the ghetto. Cassellis later discovers that his network had helped the FBI by providing some of his video footage from the protests in order to aid the FBI in their search for suspects. When Cassellis protests, he is fired at which time he then decides to go to the convention to record more footage.

Cassellis ends up befriending Eileen (played by Vena Bloom), a welfare recipient who'd moved from her West Virginia home when her husband was sent to Vietnam. Eileen has a 13 year old son named Harold (Harold Blankenship).

Ruth (Marianna Hill) is an attractive nurse, who has a relationship with Cassellis.

Medium Cool is an extraordinary piece of cinematic art of the cinema verite-film style by Haskell Wexler. The way that the film combines a fiction and non-fiction story was very well explained and detailed due to Wexler's filmmaking style. The cinema verite genre combines well with a dramatic genre. One example: the argument scenes in the film that involve John Cassellis.

Haskell Wexler did an amazing job with the cinematography. The way that he recorded the 111 minutes of the movie was very well accomplished. I especially found his cinematography style of the film to be influential. Wexler's amazing style of the film could influence other filmmakers. The reason why it could influence filmmakers because the cinema verite style that used was very revolutionized for its time and young filmmakers has never laid eyes on this type of film style before. Wexler's film style mostly influenced documentary film makers.

The plot of the film was excellent and enhanced by the realism of the footage containing political protests of the late 1960s. I loved how the plot well captured and symbolized America in the 1960s and its political protests. One particularly interesting moment to me in the film is showed people setting up for the convention. Then, the black screen appears with the sentence: "America is wonderful". After that, John and Eileen are dancing in a psychedelic rock concert. This matters to me because this moment of the movie could bring back memories for people, who experienced late 1960s political conventions and psychedelic rock music concerts.

Here's my advice: The movie is a definite must see for all generations. I give the film an strong 4 out of 4 stars.
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6/10
"The whole world is watching! The WHOLE WORLD is watching!"
moonspinner5511 May 2011
Still-relevant and thought-provoking essay on violence--and the voyeurism of violence via television--in America circa 1968. Docudrama-styled film centers on a TV-news cameraman in Chicago (Robert Forster, lean and mean while resembling a young Charles Bronson) and his love/hate relationship with his work, which is constantly being undermined by bureaucratic decision-making from network suits who aren't on the front-lines. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler also produced, directed, and wrote this microcosm of race relations (and its mind-boggling double-talk), youthful protesters of government, and clashes between civilians and the armed forces--all occurring during the 1968 Democratic convention rallies. Despite a tough, cynical veneer, a trace of bitter-tinged humor manages to come through in Wexler's conception, though the picture runs too long and is saddled with a bummer climax determined to make a statement. Forster is charming in a moodily low key, yet his budding romantic relationship with an abandoned mother of one is left a bit unformed. Real convention footage is integrated smoothly within the fictionalized drama, though these overtures (used for atmosphere) do call attention to themselves, as do a few stray acting moments from amateurs behaving too 'naturally'. However, this heatedly emotional and viscerally-charged film is still quite potent and arresting on many levels. **1/2 from ****
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Hardly perfect, but a must-see
Catch-5217 November 2000
This is not a film for those who like comfortable Hollywood polish, production values, and formulas. It was shot in a documentary-style, and thus has an immediacy and intensity at a level that can only be found in a handful. It is completely unique in its blending of fact and fiction. The kitchen scene is brilliantly staged and carried off, and the ending is definitely chilling, although more than a little abrupt. (Did they run out of film?) But the truly exciting moment in this film comes when you are watching the demonstrations outside the Chicago convention, and it suddenly sinks in: This is real. It isn't staged for your benefit. The city really was an armed camp, and the police did beat up civilians. The film has a lot of pointless scenes, and the outer story is rather mundane, but the scenes at the convention are an unprecedented achievement - simply brilliant. This film is a must-see for any student of film or history.
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Narrative is weak and improvised but it is interesting, informative and still relevant today
bob the moo6 June 2004
John Cassellis is an investigative journalist for a TV news station, unafraid to go into the areas that others avoid. In the course of his work he gets involved in the black ghettos of Chicago and the racial tensions they hold. As he interviews his subjects, John is challenged by them as well – forced to see what he is doing and why he is greeted with such hostility at times. When he finds that the station have been giving his tapes to the FBI to help them track down suspects he quits his job and tries to go alone, leading to his involvement in the Chicago riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

I only knew a little of this film when I came to watch it – so little in fact that I didn't know if it was a docu-drama or a documentary. After a few minutes I realized that this was a docu-drama and by the end of the film I was left impressed by what the film had done, even if I wasn't totally impressed by the film as a whole. The plot, for what it's worth, follows Cassellis as he reports on tensions in Chicago and then gets personally involved as he gets to see more than just subjects and is forced to take a stand as his tapes are not used for impartial purposes. In terms of narrative the film is pretty messy – the main characters aren't interesting and scenes where we are supposed to get to know them don't really work. At more than one point it seems to totally forget that it has characters and just wanders with the most basic of framework - and the ending is poor in terms of this story. However this film is not about John Cassellis as a character in a story it is about a cameraman's conscience, it is about comment and as such it is very interesting and really captures the period while making some very good points in a very even handed manner.

The film opens really well with a group of journalists discussing their role and in a way this is what the film is about. It is actually moments like the opening that are the best – for me the standout scene was where Cassellis is not allowed to leave a flat full of black people and is forced to not only listen to them but hear them as well. In these moments the film is great – totally of it's time and with a lot to say that is still relevant today. However at times this isn't as good as much as it is interesting and the ending is far, far too obvious and lazy and does an injustice to the intelligence of what has gone before.

Because the narrative is pretty weak the cast have very little to really work with and are caught up in the film (much as Wexler was caught up in real events). Having said that Forster gives a very good performance and it's not his fault that the film's aspirations leave him behind. The rest of the cast are OK and throw up a few faces including Boyle and Wexler himself but generally the focus is Forster at first and then later the setting of the period.

Overall this is a good film and one that is worth seeing, however if you expect it to be a traditional narrative then you will be disappointed. Instead watch it with an understanding of the period and the tensions/fears in America at the time as well as plenty of interesting points and ideas. On top of this film I heartedly recommend that you find and watch the 'making of' documentary called 'Watch Out Haskell it's Real!' as it really does a great job of fleshing out not only the period but also the characters and their story lines.
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9/10
a true representation of everything that happened in 1968
lee_eisenberg13 May 2005
It is hard to believe that Haskell Wexler was able to shoot a movie amid the turmoil surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention, but he did it. Robert Forster plays a cameraman covering the event. He's not exactly enthused about his job, and in the process develops a relationship with single mother Verna Bloom.

The scenes of the protests almost eclipse the main plot. Chicago's mayor calls in the National Guard to attack the demonstrators, while in the convention, people seem unaware of what is going on outside. As the protesters remind everyone: "The whole world is watching."

It's so mind-boggling to think about 1968. That year, it seemed like one thing led to another. The Tet Offensive, the My Lai Massacre, Martin Luther King Jr's assassination, the Paris uprising, Bobby Kennedy's assassination, Prague Spring, the Democratic Convention, the Mexico City uprising (while the Olympics were happening there), and to crown everything, Nixon got elected.
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Fascinating
MovieAddict201617 June 2004
They really don't make movies like this anymore. A documentary-style look at the press and media - fascinating! Stylings are very "'60s-ish" but the story and conversations will never grow outdated! A very influential film, expertly constructed and directed by Haskell...good luck finding it on video. You'll have better luck waiting for it to air on television.

The acting is very good, and convincing. Sometimes I wondered whether they were _really_ actors at all! The direction is shaky and utterly superb, capturing the "feel" of these sort of documentaries broadcast on "60 Minutes," etc.

All in all a very fascinating look at the media during the 1960s and beyond. It still relates. Vietnam has passed but the media is still the same!
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6/10
Interesting but flawed depiction of a tumultuous era.
Lorenzo H.20 February 2000
MEDIUM COOL is a documentary-like motion picture that contains actual footage of the Democratic National Convention and anti-war demonstrations, which occurred in Chicago in 1968. This gives the film, which is actually a work of fiction, an ultra-realism not usually found in Hollywood movies. Unfortunately, the excessive use of this footage near the film's somewhat extended conclusion helps distance us to the story of the main characters, which up to that point we had been following with great interest. Quite often in real life, major news events and the inevitable sensationalistic media coverage of them, tend to drown out all individuality and humanity. Perhaps this was the director's point. Still, by concentrating 'too' much on surrounding events, he allowed his characters to become only half-realized, and as a result the viewer only half cares what happens to them.

The movie does have its share of positives, from Robert Forsters thought provoking ghetto interviews with African Americans to the quite jarring and ironic ending. In between, we see the very attractive Mariana Hill in her birthday suit, and are treated to some cool guitar music by "The Mother's of Invention". These aside, my overall reaction to the film is "Medium Cool".

Final Verdict: 6 out of 10.
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A real masterpiece
tvspace3 February 2001
This is one of the great American movies. The reasons for its obscurity have everything to do with mass consumerism in the late 20th century and nothing to do with its quality. In my opinion this film captures the essence of the late 1960s better than Easy Rider, The Graduate, or any of the other popular films that have come to be associated with that era.

Wexler combines a very European (Italian Neorealist/French New Wave) style with a very American subject matter in a way that comes across as completely natural. It is an art film that plays like watching the evening news.

It is exciting both formally, and culturally: not only does it provide a lasting document of the late 1960s counter-culture in conflict with the aging, square America of the Eisenhower era, it more specifically does a fine job of representing the more general cultural conflict of rural people (here white Appalachians) thrust into the Yankee city environment.

All this, and the movie is fun to watch, not some intellectualized snorefest. It a great movie.
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9/10
A unique One of Kind Film experiance
rwint7 July 2001
Stunning one of a kind feature about a young hot shot reporter who in his pursuit of the 'human interest' story misses many more important stories. A excellent, intelligent look at the news media. Examines everything from how the media may inadvertantly 'create' a news story, to who decides what is news and what isn't, and how being 'detached' from your subject may actually be a detrament. Ingenously incorporates its actors into actual protests of the 1968 democratic convention. These scenes alone are exciting and amazing. Director Wexler ( who is also a renowned cinematagrapher) seems to capture each scene like you are actually there. Only drawback is that a couple of songs from THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION have been edited out of recent versions due to a copyright dispute.
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6/10
surreal disjointed experimental counter culture film
SnoopyStyle30 December 2013
John Cassellis (Robert Forster) is a TV reporter. This follow his work and personal life. It's a scatter shot of his life and Eileen (Verna Bloom) and her son. It's a semi-documentary where the lines of fiction and reality are often blurred. Sometimes, the only way to tell is the presence of a recognizable actor like Peter Boyle.

The film could be very disjointed and experimental. It's diving into the counter culture head first. None of the black activists are willing to discuss anything other than that they don't trust him to do an interview. There is a roller derby match, and a psychedelic Mothers of Invention concert. It is one big jumble.

Then it get surreal with Verna Bloom in her bright yellow dress walking among the protesters of the 68 Democratic convention. The riot police are out in full force, and so is the army. I would suggest anybody who find themselves drifting to stay with it to see final section. It is utterly fascinating.
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8/10
Incredible Semi-Documentary
gavin694215 July 2013
A TV news cameraman in Chicago find himself becoming personally involved in the violence that erupts around the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Roger Ebert credited Haskell Wexler with masterfully combining multiple levels of filmmaking to create a film that is "important and absorbing". That is an understatement. This film is great on its own (without the real world footage), but Wexler really lucked out on his choice of subject matter. He was in the right place at the right time to get these kind of shots.

What results is not only a film of the highest caliber, but a piece of American history presented in a way that might even be called entertaining. And heck, it has a young Peter Boyle, so you cannot beat that.
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60's Novelty
dougdoepke13 May 2013
This unusual film combines fictional narrative with live footage of the turbulent 1968 Democratic convention.

The movie made a splash upon first release. At the time, it couldn't have been more topical for the explosive political events then taking place. Director Wexler had his camera fortuitously placed to catch the bloody clash between protesters and Chicago cops backed up by the National Guard at the 1968 Democratic convention. Wexler caught the afternoon clash in the park, but not the probably unfilmable bloodier riot of that evening. Nonetheless, it's near documentary footage of an historic event that remains the movie's chief attraction.

The movie itself is non-linear, with little narrative or dialogue. Instead it fades in and out on reporter Cassellis (Forster) as he learns some ugly truths about the state of the nation, circa- 1968. His and cameraman Gus's (Bonerz's) run-in with the black radicals in a Chicago ghetto remains a haunting slice of angry cinema and appears, to me at least, to be largely unscripted. I expect it was the first personal exposure many white audiences had to black rage then bubbling up in urban centers. This angry encounter, combining with raucous anti- war protesters and paramilitary police, present a vivid profile of the civil unrest of the time-- (Oddly, however, I don't believe the word 'Vietnam' is uttered once in the dialogue).

We also get a sense of dislocation through the characters of Eileen (Bloom) and small son Harold (Blankenship). Uprooted from their West Virginia home by an absentee father, Eileen now ekes out a living in Chicago, while Harold tries to adjust to city ways. Their rural background and accents mark them as hillbillies in their new surroundings. Nonetheless, the sophisticated Cassellis finds Eileen's naïve simplicity appealing, and their little tour of the psychedelic nightclub reveals something of the urban counterculture flourishing at the time.

I get the feeling Wexler wasn't sure how to end the quasi-narrative part of the movie, and there, I believe, he stumbles by settling for a clear contrivance. Nonetheless, the movie's last shot of his turning the camera onto us suggests we too are part of the story, which seems fitting for a film of this innovative sort. Anyway, the movie remains a one-of-a-kind, and though no longer topical, does furnish a fascinating glimpse of a turbulent time, which in many ways is still with us.
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8/10
A film that blurs reality and fiction like no other...
contronatura25 February 2000
This is really a pretty remarkable film. As a story, it's fairly interesting - a callous TV news cameraman softens in the face of the political turmoil of 1968, and falls in love with a widow. But cinematically, it's a tour de force. The most thrilling portion of this film is the scenes shot on location in Chicago's Grant Park, while the protesters outside the Democratic convention are beaten back by a brutal force of Chicago police officers and National Guardsmen. The part that sticks out in my mind is where the tear gas starts to explode, and we can hear someone say "Watch out, it's real!" At this point, the film turns into something else entirely. The story of the reporter is pushed to the background, and the examination of fact vs. fiction is pushed to the forefront. This is one of the most daring films ever released by a major studio - it almost completely dispenses with narrative convention 2/3 of the way in, and becomes a gripping experimental film. It's not perfect; it does take awhile to get going, for one. But once it gets rolling, this is riveting and chilling.
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