Medium Cool

Critics Consensus

Medium Cool merges a bracing cinéma vérité with deft drama to authentically chronicle a nation at odds with itself and a media struggling to get the story straight.



Total Count: 22


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,865
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Movie Info

"I love to shoot film" is the sanguine motto of TV lensman John Cassellis (Robert Forster) in Haskell Wexler's 1969 Medium Cool, a semi-documentary investigation of image-making and politics. With his soundman, Gus (Peter Bonerz), John films such events as gruesome car wrecks with frosty detachment, considering himself a mere recorder of circumstances, his only responsibility to get his film in on time. Even his girlfriend, Ruth (Marianna Hill), cannot understand or penetrate John's complacency. Encounters with signs of the late '60s times, however, raise John's consciousness about the implications of his job, as he films a verbal attack by black militants on the media's racism, gets fired after he objects to having that footage turned over to the FBI, and meets Vietnam War widow Eileen (Verna Bloom). John witnesses the violence of the state firsthand as he and Eileen search for her son amidst the real-life demonstrations and riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Even though he realizes the political power of pointing a camera at anything, John finally cannot extricate himself or his loved ones from a culture obsessed with recording any sensational, gory incident. Scripted (from a novel by Jack Couffer), directed, and shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer and political activist Wexler, Medium Cool systematically questions the ideological power of images by combining documentary techniques such as "talking heads" and cinéma vérité with staged scenes between the actors. By the time Wexler and his crew start filming Forster and Bloom among the actual events at the convention, all barriers between fiction and fact are broken down, as Wexler's assistant can be heard warning, "Watch out, Haskell, it's real," when tear gas is thrown. The footage of cops clubbing people in the crowd is real, but Wexler's presence also turns it into part of a fictional story, revealing filmed "reality" to be as artificially constructed as any other fiction, subject to the interpretation of whoever holds the camera and, perhaps, to larger institutions of power. Funding Medium Cool partly out of his own resources, Wexler had free reign during production, but when the execs at Paramount saw the result, they were not pleased. Despite the timely subject matter, Paramount delayed and then curtailed the film's release, tempering its impact on critics and audiences. Regardless of that record, Medium Cool stands as a vital late-'60s film for its incisive narrative and formal dissection of the visual politics of "truth," and its awareness of how coolly seductive televised violence might be as entertainment, especially in a historical moment marked by incendiary images of political assassinations, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and counterculture protests.


Robert Forster
as John Cassellis
Harold Blankenship
as Harold Horton
Sid McCoy
as Frank Baker
Robert McAndrew
as Pennybaker
William Sickinger
as News Director Karlin
Beverly Younger
as Rich Lady
Marrian Walters
as Social Worker
Edward Croke
as Plainclothesman
Sandra Ann Roberts
as Blonde in Car
Doug Kimball
as Newscaster
Peter Boyle
as Gun Clinic Manager
Georgia Tadda
as Secretary
Charles Geary
as Buddy, Harold's Father
Jeff Donaldson
as Black Militant
Richard Abrams
as Black Militant
Felton Perry
as Black Militant
Val Grey
as Black Militant
Bill Sharp
as Black Militant
Robert Paige
as Black Militant
Walter Bradford
as Black Militant
Russell Davis
as Black Militant
Livingston Lewis
as Black Militant
Barbara Jones
as Black militant
John Jackson
as Black Militant
Simone Zorn
as Reporter and Photographer
Madeleine Maroou
as Reporter and Photographer
Mickey Pallas
as Reporter and Photographer
Lynn Erlich
as Reporter and Photographer
Lester Brownlee
as Reporter and Photographer
Morris Bleckman
as Reporter and Photographer
Wally Wright
as Reporter and Photographer
Sam Ventura
as Reporter and Photographer
George Boulet
as Reporter and Photographer
Spence Jackson
as Kennedy Student
Haskell Wexler
as Cameraman on Scaffold
Dorien Suhr
as Kennedy Student
James H. Jacobs
as Kennedy student
Kenneth Whitener
as Kennedy Student
Connie Fleischauer
as Kennedy Student
George Bouillet
as Media person
Mary Smith
as Kennedy student
Studs Terkel
as Our Man in Chicago
Nancy Lee Noble
as Kennedy Student
Linda Handelman
as Gun-Clinic Lady
Maria Friedman
as Gun-Clinic Lady
Kathryn Schubert
as Gun-Clinic Lady
Barbara Brydenthal
as Gun-Clinic Lady
Elizabeth Moisant
as Gun-Clinic Lady
Rose Bormacher
as Gun- Clinic Lady
China Lee
as Roller Derby Patron
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Critic Reviews for Medium Cool

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (2)

Audience Reviews for Medium Cool

  • Jan 21, 2014
    A TV journalist becomes disenchanted with his bosses in the mainstream media, while simultaneously romancing an Appalachian mother whose husband was killed in Vietnam. Thanks to a powerful performance by Robert Forster and a lucky accident (when riots broke out at the 1968 Democratic Convention, director Haskell Wexler was able to shoot his actors mingling with real life protestors and National Guardsmen---the crew was even tear-gassed), this became one of the great anti-authoritarian/agitprop movies of the hippie era.
    Greg S Super Reviewer

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