Medium Cool is the story of television news cameraman John Cassellis (Robert Forster), who lives his personal life with the same icy detachment he affords a subject through his viewfinder. In fact, in the film’s brilliant introduction, we see Cassellis and soundman Gus (Peter Bonerz) pull up behind a car wreck and film the possibly-dead victim sprawled across the road before – when Cassellis has all the shots he needs - agreeing they should call an ambulance. That alone tells us all we need to know. Cassellis is a man who takes his date to the roller-derby so they can watch the players beat each other up. He is a man who loves to shoot film, who is immune to violence. But it is only when he is harangued by a group of black militants about the media’s inherent racism, is angered to discover that his footage has been routinely turned over to the FBI, and meets a lonely young woman (Verna Bloom) struggling to bring up her teenage son, that he begins to allow himself to feel again.
All of this plays out against a backdrop of the United States in racial and political turmoil. ”America is Wonderful”, an ad declares with no sense of its own irony. The National Guard rehearse riot drills as the age of flower-power innocence boils over into a rage of racial disharmony and Vietnam War-fuelled discontent. When, in the film’s last act, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago deteriorates into carnage and we watch Verna Bloom, a wide-eyed innocent in her bright yellow sun dress clambering over the makeshift barricades, staring in shocked disbelief at the battered and bloodied protesters (who are all real, the riots were actually happening as these scenes were being filmed), we are left in no doubt as to the power, uniqueness and cultural importance of writer/director Haskell Wexler’s remarkable film. Part dramatic tour-de-force, part cinema verité, Wexler not only skewers the inherent cynicism of television news just as successfully as Network would do (in a far different way) eight years later, he also documents America at a time when ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ was anything but.
Medium Cool is a cinematic body-blow, a film of only-slightly flawed genius that everyone needs to see, and Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Blu-ray presentation won’t disappoint. The print is flawless and the extras are as plentiful and educational as we’ve come to expect from an MoC package. A day after watching it, we still can’t get Medium Cool out of our head. We simply can’t recommend it highly enough.
Special Features: Audio commentary / Three featurettes / Trailer / 28-page booklet
MEDIUM COOL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: HASKELL WEXLER / STARRING: ROBERT FORSTER, VERNA BLOOM, PETER BONERZ, MARIANNA HILL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW