Wednesday, June 12, 2013

#658: Medium Cool

(Haskell Wexler, 1969)

In some ways, Medium Cool is a close relative of many of the other American films in the Collection from the same era. The BBS boxset, particularly A Safe Place and its crown jewel, Easy Rider, along with Two-Lane Blacktop are personal movies that are simultaneously trying to say something, both about film and the world at the time. Medium Cool fits nicely into this style in a lot of ways.

But there's something else about Wexler's film that sets it apart: its flirtation with the documentary genre that leads the film towards a much grayer cinematic landscape. The footage taken at the DNC in Chicago is the centerpiece of the film, and it's therefore where it lives or dies, depending on your tolerance for docu/drama style and tone.

As might be expected from Wexler, the film is much more beautiful than it has any business being.The mix of real and pseudo documentary footage with a variety of more obvious narrative scenes is seamlessly blended, and Wexler's ability to maintain a steady eye across a wide range of characters and settings is quite impressive. Robert Forster, meanwhile, might not be a star, but he carries the film with a hefty presence that reminded me of what Tarantino saw in him when he tried to resurrect his career 15 years ago.

Despite these positives, the film takes a while to build up any narrative momentum, and Wexler seems much more interested in capturing the broad range of life in Chicago in the late 60s than he does in telling a compelling and economic story. This makes the movie much more interesting for its value as a document of its time than for its story or any interesting combination of the two.

By the way, does anyone else see bacon in a frying pan in the cover? Or was that the intention?

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