Friday, June 14, 2019
Written, directed, and shot by Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool is the story of a TV news cameraman who goes right into the center of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as he deals with what to film making him question about what to tell where news media becomes more scripted. The film is a dramatic interpretation of the events of 1968 in Chicago as it showcases a world that is unraveling as it’s told in an in-your-face cinematic style to comment about what is shown and what isn’t shown. Starring Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, Marianna Hill, and Harold Blankenship. Medium Cool is a gripping and evocative film from Haskell Wexler.
The film follows a cameraman trying to get some good stories to tell in Chicago just months before the Democratic National Convention where he deals with the chaos of the year including assassinations, the Vietnam War, race riots, and all sorts of shit. It’s a film that play into the world of media coverage where a cameraman is trying to find some meaning through what he sees yet he finds himself being told what to shoot and create an angle just as the world is going into disarray. Haskell Wexler’s script is loose in its presentation as it blurs the line between fantasy and reality where the main narrative revolves around the cameraman John Catselas (Robert Forster) as a man just trying to find some idea of what is really going on as he’s joined by his soundman Gus (Peter Bonerz).
During this time to search for compelling stories including one about a cab driver who found an envelope with $10,000, Catselas finds himself at odds with bosses over what to tell as they’re interested in gathering footage and sources for the FBI. It adds to Catselas’ own emotional turmoil as his relationships with some people falter just as he’s befriend a woman named Eileen (Verna Bloom) who had just moved from West Virginia to Chicago with her son Harold (Harold Blankenship) while her husband is away at Vietnam. Eileen represents someone who had lived in a part of the world that is sort of disconnected from the chaos of what is happening right now as she has trouble adjusting to her new environment.
Wexler’s direction is engaging and confrontational in its blur of reality and fiction where it aims for this hand-held documentary style in capturing real events that are unfolding throughout the film but also with the dramatic narrative. Shot on location in Chicago, Wexler who serves as the film’s cinematographer and one of many camera operators aims for this realistic approach to this story of a man trying to find meaning in the news just as the news itself is becoming compromised and scripted. While there’s some wide shots in the film, much of the direction is intimate with its usage of close-ups and medium shots as it play into the action that is going on while Wexler also use audio and video clips of the events that are unfolding in 1968 playing into this air of chaos that is on the rise. The direction also has this loose tone where Wexler showcases the life that Catselas had before meeting Eileen and questioning his role as a cameraman as the film opens with him and Gus on a highway where they find a wounded woman lying out of her car following an accident.
Wexler’s direction and photography maintains an air of realism in the visuals including scenes at a night club where Catselas and Eileen watch a band play as well as dance to the music. It would culminate with the real-life events in and out of the Democratic National Convention where Wexler and his team of camera operators just film what is going on while Eileen is walking around trying to find her son. The sense of chaos, violence, and danger add to this air of realism where reality and fiction would blur as it play into these events where some news outlets refuse to report this riot but others realize there is something important happening as it relates to what Catselas is trying to do as a news cameraman. Overall, Wexler crafts a riveting and haunting film about a news cameraman trying to find a story for the world to know in a media that’s been compromised.
Editor Verna Fields does excellent work with the editing in its usage of jump-cuts and some montages to capture the action and chaos that occur throughout the film. Art director Leon Erickson does nice work with the look of the apartment that Eileen lives that is a total contrast to the more spacious apartment loft that Catselas lives in. Sound editor Kay Rose does fantastic work with the sound in capturing all of the sound clips from news reports as well as the chaos that is happening outside of the Democratic National Convention. The film’s music by Mike Bloomfield is amazing for its mixture of folk and rock that play into some of the dark humor of the film with some instrumental pieces by the Mothers of Invention and Love.
The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles from Peter Boyle as a gun clinic manager, Christine Bergstrom as a news staff member/lover of Catselas in Dede, and Charles Geary as Harold’s father in flashback scenes. Marianna Hill is wonderful as Catselas’ lover Ruth who spends time at his loft while questioning about his ideals towards the news. Harold Blankenship is fantastic as Harold as Eileen’s son who is dealing with his dreary situation as well as wondering when his dad is going to come back home. Peter Bonerz is terrific as Gus as Catselas’ sound man who accompany him to the assignment as he is also concerned about where the news media is going. Verna Bloom is brilliant as Eileen as a former schoolteacher from West Virginia who has moved to Chicago as she deals with her new surroundings while befriending Catselas as she ponders about her husband who is in Vietnam. Finally, there’s Robert Forster in an amazing performance as John Catselas as a news cameraman who is dealing with the growing turmoil in the news media as he wants to capture real stories that mean something as it starts to affect his personal life as he finds solace in Eileen.
Medium Cool is a sensational film from Haskell Wexler. Featuring a great cast, a commentary about news media in the late 1960s, haunting visuals, and a riveting music soundtrack. It’s a film that explore a moment in time that would prove to be not just a turning point in American history but also its exploration of a man wanting to capture the truth and be part of it despite the compromise he has to endure in his line of work. In the end, Medium Cool is a spectacular film from Haskell Wexler.
© thevoid99 2019