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Critics reviews
Medium Cool
Haskell Wexler United States, 1969
Wexler combines fictional storytelling with documentary footage, blurring the boundary between real and fiction until the film’s conclusion—an extended sequence shot amidst the DNC riots—poses the question: when witnessing unjust violence, is it ethical to be a passive spectator?
July 20, 2016
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A movie that astutely and consistently interrogates the power of wielding a camera, Medium Cool makes its most searing impression during its most destabilized moment: Eileen, the latest of roué John’s love interests, is searching for her son in Grant Park, soon becoming part of the actual, bloody chaos that erupts as the Chicago PD attacks Yippies and other peace protesters… As unpredictable as the summer it recounts, Medium Coolendures as one of cinema’s most electric shape-shifters.
July 19, 2016
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Medium Cool stages, not so much with voguish nihilism, despite its demonstrably downbeat ending, as dispassionate vérité straightforwardness, the growing pains that strain a nation when the countercultural ideal of limitless possibility matures into something closer to political reality.
June 06, 2013
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Medium Cool is a film remarkable for its insistence that no one exists outside of politics, whether one experiences it as a backdrop to daily life (a wrinkled Bobby Kennedy poster in a cramped apartment) or as a nightstick to the gut.
May 21, 2013
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He had a script and had mapped out a definite plan of battle, but Wexler’s main thrust was to let changing circumstances and unfolding history dictate the content of Medium Cool. It is a tremendously open and responsive film, absorbing the bombardment of dislocation and trauma on the fly; the oblique sequence depicting RFK’s murder remains devastating in its quietude, abruptness, and desolation.
May 19, 2013
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Admittedly, there are elements in Medium Cool that fall somewhat short. The kind of cinéma vérité filmmaking that was possible prior to the invention of the steadicam can test an audience’s equilibrium. Also, many of the shots in the film are composed more for the purpose of incorporating specific content than illustrating technical finesse. Wexler’s visual scheme succeeds more on the basis of its energy and audacity, and not its incorporation of memorable individual images.
August 01, 2008
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Forty years later, Medium Cool seems like one of the most ambivalent political films ever… Medium Cool is its title—pretty interesting, but never fully impassioned. (Alternate title: Lukewarm.) At times, it seems like a DP’s demo reel—which it is, in a way. Wexler’s first narrative feature as a director is full of gorgeous images that frequently have nothing to do with each other, visually or thematically.
May 01, 2008
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Forster is terrific in both areas — he’s casually hardened to the world but also cares when it comes to Eileen and her son. Wexler would have been wise to follow Forster’s lead, as the actor deftly compounds his hard-boiled newsguy with a man internally struggling with the violence around him. Still, one can’t help but be affected by Wexler’s film, which is not so much a movie as it is a cinematic essay — a picture so powerful it earned an X-rating when released.
January 01, 2005
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The movie has a lot on its mind—too much to be bothered with the niceties of narrative construction and character. The ideas expressed aren’t original or very forceful, but there’s an urgency in them that makes the film seem important and immediate. At its best it’s a specific emotional response to a specific emotional situation, sharp if not lucid.
January 01, 1980
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