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Medium Cool Reviews

This minor classic from the 60s time capsule is a self-conscious essay on the meaning of the media and the nature of political commitment. During the summer of 1968, with anti-war sentiment growing daily, a host of hippies, Yippies, and other countercultural types descended on Chicago for the Democratic Convention, an event marked by all-out battles between police and demonstrators in parks and on the streets. Celebrated left-wing cinematographer Haskell Wexler directed much of MEDIUM COOL while on location there, blending documentary footage with a fictional narrative. John (Robert Forster) is a television cameraman, Gus (Peter Bonerz) his soundman, Eileen (Verna Bloom) a poor woman from the Kentucky hills who has recently moved to Chicago with her son, Harold (Harold Blankenship). John is initially presented as the archetypal artist divorced from society ("God, I love to shoot film"), but gradually becomes involved in the political process through his growing relationship with Eileen and Harold. Everything comes to a sticky end reminiscent of the finale of Godard's CONTEMPT. Finally, a very solemn-looking Wexler literally turns his camera on us: we're responsible, too, for what we've just seen on screen. The noted photographer of such films as THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, Wexler took on directorial duties for the first time here, something he would not do again until 1985's LATINO. Interestingly, it's Wexler's skills as a visual storyteller that give MEDIUM COOL its lasting power. While the more explicitly political scenes--any, in fact, that feature substantial dialogue--seem awkward and dated, the long, impressionistic sequences in which Wexler establishes character and locale almost exclusively with image and sound are hauntingly effective. One scene in particular, in which John and a girlfriend lounge, then romp around his spacious apartment, is as exhilarating a piece of camerawork as any we've seen.