Medium Cool (1969)

Medium Cool (1969), written, photographed and directed by Haskell Wexler.

We meet our ethically challenged Chicago news photographer at the scene of a traffic accident. Only after he and his partner get their footage do they call for an ambulance as they drive away, leaving the victim to survive or not.

He has a girlfriend (early sex and nudity here) but really warms up to a mother and son from West Virginia. Where's Dad? We are variously told "in Vietnam" and "dead" and "just took off". His heart begins to soften.

What really gets him going is the discovery that his footage is being turned over to the police and FBI so they can investigate anti-war and civil rights groups. His rage gets him fired.

Then it is August 1968 and time for the fateful demonstration- and riot-heavy Democratic National Convention.

A remarkable film experiment combining fact and fiction. It is hard to separate the actors from the citizens or the dramatizations from actual events. Verna Bloom walks completely through the demonstrations and "police riot" (real) while searching for her son (drama).


The anti-war and civil rights campaigns were intertwined in those days, and Wexler gives black people camera time to explain they are tired of being unseen and misunderstood and are getting angry about it.


Available on Blu-ray from Criterion. Two commentary tracks: