While many might be somewhat more familiar with his outstanding work as a cinematographer ("The Thomas Crown Affair", "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", "Secret of Roan Inish"), Haskell Wexler gained strong praise for this groundbreaking writing/directing effort in 1968, which saw the Chicago-born Wexler go home to build a fictional film around the Democratic National Convention, which, as many know, turned violent, with riots and protests - several of which are shown throughout the film.
The usually superb Robert Forster plays John, a television cameraman who has apparently become rather detached from the kind of events that he witnesses on a daily basis, as is evident in the film's opening scene at an accident. Wexler thought that the Convention would be a volatile event and he was right; the director wanted to make a film that mixed fiction and reality and he did - the actors work and stay in character in the midst of real, true chaos around them.
Meanwhile, John falls for a woman named Eileen (Verna Bloom) who has recently moved to the city with her child. These scenes are well-played, but it's when the movie follows the Forster character doing work that the film is even more engaging - it doesn't feel written, but it is. The film's documentary-style of shooting also gives it a greater feel of reality.
While the supporting performances are very good, Forster's performance is exceptional and I'm suprised that he didn't get considerable awards notice for it. It's a great effort, portraying a character who is certainly tough and unsympathetic, but there's intensity and moments of realization where he's re-awakened to the events that are going on in the world around him.
This is an intense, provactive film with a lot to say, which also seems not at all dated today. While it's a bit suprising that the film was originally given an "X" rating upon its original release (later re-rated as an "R"), this is still a powerful film about the time period that everyone should see.
VIDEO: Paramount presents "Medium Cool" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The studio's efforts here are quite above my expectations for the look of the small, 32-year-old picture. Sharpness and detail are not entirely consistent, as some scenes look suprisingly well-defined and detailed, while some interior scenes look simply crisp. Overall though, the few moments that seemed slightly softer in comparison are an extremely minor complaint.
That's really all there is to discuss with this transfer - very minor complaints. There's a few specks on the print used and some minor dirt, but I've seen worse on films released less than 32 months ago, so a film released 32 years ago looking simply a tiny bit worn in a scene or two is certainly pleasing. No edge enhancement and no pixelation were noticed and the result is a clear, natural image throughout. Some grain appears, but it's very light, consistent and I didn't find it a bother.
Colors are subdued, but not faded and appear largely natural and accurate. Overall, I was more than pleased with Paramount's effort here; either the film has been kept in superb condition or they have taken time and care to clean and restore it to this level of clarity. Either way, very fine work.
SOUND: "Medium Cool" is presented in mono and there's really not a whole lot to discuss. The film is almost purely focused on dialogue; while Paramount has often remixed older films for Dolby Digital 5.1, it wouldn't have made much sense with this film. At least audio quality remained pleasing, as the dialogue came through clearly and some sounds of the surrounding environment were occasionally heard in the background without overshadowing dialogue.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that essentially use film-themed images and cover art.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director/writer/cinematographer Haskell Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding and actress Marianna Hill. Recorded in Scotland in Summer, 2001, this is a particularly fascinating commentary that really has all of the participants able to do a strong job remembering very specific details about the production of the film, the look of the film, as well as some of the pre-production planning and later work (editing, etc). Hill doesn't talk too much, but occasionally does provide a nice actor's perspective about what it was like to work on the film, while the other two provide historical and technical details. Certainly worth a listen.
Also: The film's theatrical trailer, complete with the X-Rated card at the end of the trailer.
Final Thoughts: A stunning, effective and well-acted mixture of fiction and reality, "Medium Cool" is an impressive piece of work that still stands up quite well today. Paramount deserves praise for their fine effort with the film, not only offering it with suprisingly clean and fresh picture quality, but good audio and a fine main supplement. Highly Recommended.