Blu-Ray Review: Medium Cool

Director: Haskell Wexler
Screenplay: Haskell Wexler
Starring: Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, Harold Blankenship
Country: USA
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: 18


Like my decision to take a look at The Decline of Western Civilization Collection, my agreeing to review Medium Cool was on a bit of a whim. I’d vaguely heard about it and the director sounded familiar, but I didn’t really realise its pedigree until just before watching it. I also didn’t know much about how it was made until after I’d watched it, so it’s a case of my opinion of the film becoming more positive a day after viewing.

You see, what makes Medium Cool special is that director Haskell Wexler, who is better known as a cinematographer and documentary filmmaker, combined fictional drama and actors with real life events. A few other directors had combined the ‘real’ with the ‘fake’ before this, but no one had quite done it in this extreme fashion.

The film follows news cameraman John Cassellis (Robert Forster) as he covers important cultural and political events during the turbulent late 1960’s. Cold and detached, he pays little attention to the consequences of what is going on around him. He’s only looking to get the most sensational footage he can. When he is fired after kicking up a fuss about his work being given to the FBI, he falls for Appalachian single mum Eileen (Verna Bloom), who lives in the rough side of Chicago with her son Harold (Harold Blankenship). His personal and professional life finally collide with the political turbulence around him when tragedy strikes at the riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

What makes the film’s approach particularly extreme is that, alongside taking his actors to a number of real locations and situations, Wexler actually predicted there would be civil unrest around the convention and prepared to shoot there around the time. He took his crew and actors right into the midst of the chaos and shot the pivotal final act amongst the police and protesters. Possibly the most famous scene in the film (from what I’ve heard) is where a tear gas canister is thrown towards the camera and you hear someone shout “look out Haskell it’s real!” After watching the supplementary material on the Blu-Ray it turns out the line was dubbed in afterwards, but the tear gas was real. Haskel and his crew were hit by the fumes and were in agony afterwards. It’s bold and daring filmmaking the likes of which are rarely seen.

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Trailer: Autómata

Automata

Ah, Millennium Entertainment, the 21st century Golan-Globus, only with slightly bigger budgets and lots and always a movie star at the centre. This is the company that brought us 88 Minutes, Trespass, and The Expendables franchise. Occasionally it works out for them, as in Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans or The Paperboy, but mostly it is easy, marketable but derivative and forgettable stuff without an auteur director at the helm.

Spanish produced science fiction action/empathy flick Autómata looks like a mix of I, Robot and Elysium with a dash of Cherry 2000, considering the presence of Melanie Griffith as a robot scientist. Robert Forster and Dylan McDermott are here for some support work (along with the voice of Javier Bardem).

Animator and Visual Effects-man Gabe Ibáñez follows up his mystery thriller, Hierro.

Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

Cinecast Episode 236 – Ocular Coitus

While our friend Matt Gamble is still on the mend (not from a boating accident), Kurt and Andrew grew a bit tired of executing these shows together all alone and reached towards the heavens above for this episodes guest host: Aaron Hartung (aka the dude who lives upstairs). Aaron also happens to work for the best cinema chain in town, Landmark Theaters; not only does he seem to know his movie stuff, he’s got a voice for radio to boot.

We missed last week’s episode due to other obligations and illness, there is a LOT to get to this week. From Lars von Trier’s visually rich disaster/depression epic to the long awaited new Alexander Payne film (it has indeed been six years) we cover your auteur cinema-making-guys. But wait, there’s more: Fifties sex icons, furry-little-singing-nostalgia-engines(tm) and a whole lot of early cinema history enshrined in a Martin Scorsese ‘kids film.’ Enjoy this double-digest episode of the show: It’s time to start the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to talk death, depression and the urgent need for knowing our history on the Cinecast tonight.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

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Full show notes are under the seats…
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Cinecast Episode 116 – Knowing is Half the Battle

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Episode 116:
We’re back with a little Knowing this week. A lot of Knowing actually. Then it’s on to some other tidbits of goodness, DVDs and Spike Jonze.
Huzzah!

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Below the fold are the Show Notes…
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