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The time: 1968. The place: Chicago, setting of the Democratic National Convention and a hotbed of political and social change. As protesters and police face off in the streets, fate brings together an unlikely pair: John (Robert Forster), a dispassionate TV news cameraman, and Eileen (Verna Bloom), a warmhearted Appalachian raising her son in a Chicago ghetto.
For more about Medium Cool and the Medium Cool Blu-ray release, see Medium Cool Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on May 14, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Director: Haskell Wexler
Writer: Haskell Wexler
Starring: Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, Peter Boyle, Peter Bonerz, Sid McCoy
» See full cast & crew
Medium Cool Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 14, 2013
Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool" (1969) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an original trailer for the film; exclusive new video interview with director Haskell Wexler; extended excerpts from Paul Cronin's documentary "Look Out Haskell, It's Real!"; new featurette with director Haskell Wexler; excerpts from Paul Cronin's documentary "Sooner or Later"; audio commentary with director Haskell Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding, and actress Marianna Hill ; and a second, brand new audio commentary with historian Paul Cronin. The release also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film critic and programmer Thomas Beard. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked'.
John Cassellis (Robert Forster, The Don is Dead, Jackie Brown), the main character in Haskel Wexler's Medium Cool, is a television cameraman who spends his time in two entirely different worlds. In the first, he does his best to deliver top material that will make his corporate employers look better than their competitors. He enters the most dangerous suburbs of Chicago to film the leaders of underground political organizations, visits training camps for anti-riot troops that could be used during the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and interviews the owners of gun stores and shooting facilities where middle-aged white women are taught how to use firearms. There is a political element in everything he films – it is 1968, it is hot and it seems like everyone in Chicago feels strongly about the direction the country is headed – but all he is interested in is the commercial value of his footage.
When he does not use his camera, John pursues beautiful women like Ruth (Marianna Hill, High Plains Drifter). He likes spending time with them because they are always predictable and easy to please.
The balance in John's life is disrupted when he goes after 13-year-old Harold (Harold Blankenship), who tries to break into his company car. John meets his single mother Eileen (Verna Bloom, The Last Temptation of Christ), who has recently moved with her son to Chicago from West Virginia, and instantly becomes attracted to her. While working hard with his sound man Gus (Peter Bonerz, Jennifer on My Mind), John frequently meets Eileen for coffee. On their first real date he finally kisses her, but Harold sees them and runs away from home. Shortly after Eileen and John go out looking for him, deadly riots engulf the streets of Chicago.
The chaotic intensity of Medium Cool reminds of Jean-Luc Godard's best political work. The big difference here is the fact that Medium Cool remains firmly grounded in reality - the angry political statements and the total mayhem surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago never once feel artificial.
There is none of the in-your-face preaching that is often present in Godard's most radical films either (typically delivered by a passionate narrator). On the contrary, like John the viewer is pushed right in the middle of the chaos and then left alone to make sense of it. Something similar happens in Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days, but eventually all of the scattered pieces there are properly aligned. There is no old-fashioned Hollywood logic in Medium Cool, which is why the film looks and feels deadly serious.
The love story is a brilliant distraction. Without it Medium Cool would have been just another very dry documentary feature. The love story allows Wexler to occasionally move away from the emerging chaos and give the viewer a glimpse of the ordinary. These segments are often complimented by top tracks courtesy of Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention and Love.
Forster and Bloom are spectacular together. The latter, in particular, really does look like a woman on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown at the end of the film. It is also virtually impossible to tell how many extras were used for some of the mass scenes as they look incredibly real. (The film does use authentic footage from convention preparations as well as extracts from popular political speeches).
In 2003, Medium Cool was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Medium Cool Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"Approved by director Haskell Wexler, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on Scanity film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Transfer supervisor: Maria Palazzola.
Color correction: Sheri Eisenberg/Colorworks, Culver City, CA."
Recently restored in 4K, with the digital restoration approved by director Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool looks stunning on Blu-ray. From start to finish detail is indeed outstanding, while clarity is consistently very pleasing. Despite the shaky camera movement, contrast levels are also remain stable. Color reproduction is also outstanding - there is a wide variety of very warm and very natural looking colors. Because of the high quality scan, grain is evenly distributed and resolved throughout the entire film. Additionally, there isn't even a whiff of post production sharpening. Frame transitions are also outstanding. Finally, there are absolutely no damage marks, debris, cuts, stains, or warps to report in this review. Indeed, this is a very impressive and very beautiful organic presentation of Medium Cool, which I feel very confident will be the film's definitive presentation for years to come. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Medium Cool Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one standard audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
It is clear to me that various stabilizations have been performed as balance (between dialog and music) and clarity are indeed very good. Despite the fact that the film was shot in a very specific manner (classic cinema verite style), dynamic movement is also very good. The dialog is always very crisp, clean, and exceptionally easy to follow.
Medium Cool Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Medium Cool Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This is American Cinema at its very best - powerful, thought-provoking, incredibly original. While revisiting the film, now beautifully restored in 4K, I kept thinking about many of Jean-Luc Godard's most radical films. As impressive as many of them are, I dare say not a single one of them matches the brilliance of Medium Cool. Structurally, it is a flawless film. And regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with its message, it is an indisputable fact that it is very much relevant today. Criterion's presentation of Medium Cool is outstanding. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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