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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the few '60s films to actually remain relavent, December 17, 2001
This review is from: Medium Cool (DVD)
Released in 1969 by overshadowed by Easy Rider (which despite being a bit more flashy in technique is actually a far more conventional film), Medium Cool is one of the few "counterculture" films of the '60s to actually remain relavent. The first film to be directed by famed cameraman Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool is the story of 1968, a panoramic view of a near revolution. Cleverly, Wexler tells his story through two outsiders -- a detached newsman (Robert Forster) and the country widow that he romances (well played by Verna Bloom who should have become a star as a result of her sweetly realistic and appealing performance). Though the film is clearly on the side of the counterculture, the use of these two outsiders allows Medium Cool to retain an objectivity that seems to be missing from most other films of the period. Instead of simply worshipping the trends of the time, Wexler was actually at the apocalyptic events seen in the film. When Forster and Bloom find themselves lost in the chaotic rioting of that year's Democratic convention, the scenes are riveting because they were actually filmed during the actual riots. This is the rare protest film where, instead of seeing wealthy Hollywoodites playing their idealized versions of the times, you are actually seeing the events as they unfold. For someone like myself who was born on the tail end of the Viet Nam War, seeing that footage and realizing how close to collapse society actually was in 1968 is truly an eye opening experience.
Much of the film, of course, is improvised. Improv is often a frightening word when it comes to film making. It seems to be a talent that a lot more people believe they have than actually do. However, Medium Cool is one of the few films I've ever seen where the improvised sequences come off not as self-indulgent but actually very revealing. It helps that Wexler found some of the best improvisational actors working at that time and put them in his film. Hence, the wonderful Peter Bonerz shows up as Forster's jittery partner and the contrast between his nervousness and Forster's coldness provides for a good deal of humor (something missing from far too many protest films). A particurlar highlight is when Forster and Bonerz interview a group of Black militants. Bonerz's desperate attempts to both find an escape and come across as a good, white liberal at the same time are priceless. Other than his later role as the oily dentist on the Bob Newhart Show, Bonerz was never given another oppurtunity to show off just how truly talented he is and that's a shame.
Also giving a strong improvisational performance is Peter Boyle, making one of his first film appearances and playing one of the first of his signature "right-wing nut" roles with a blue collar accent that never condascends or gives into easy elitism (another quality that sets Medium Cool apart from other protest films).
However, the film truly belongs to the two leads and they bring a true humanity to what otherwise could have been an overly cold and clinical film. As stated before, Bloom plays a simple character without ever giving a simple performance. Her political innocence is never ridiculed or attacked and her horror at the growing violence around her is wonderfully conveyed and felt by the audience. Forster, an always underrated actor, gives one of his typically low-key performances and bravely gives an honest performance as a character that many in the audience probably won't find extremely likeable. As he would later in "Jackie Brown," Forster manages to convey his character's detachment while stll suggesting an actual, human being. As he romances Bloom and becomes attached to her young son (well-played by Harold Blankenship), Forster slowly starts to surrender his cool exterior and Forster's subtle emotional development is wonderfully conveyed. By the time of the film's apocalyptic ending, we've come to truly care about these two characters and, as a result, Medium Cool becomes more than just a film about the 1960s. It becomes a film for the ages.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 2, 2013 5:46:08 AM PST
As a 26 yr. old graduate student, I didn't have much time to give the relevance of current events into perspective, being up to my teeth in studies. This movie, when I saw it, truly gave that perspective to the events of 1968 as the year that truly changed all of us forever. It was probably the most socially significant year of my life. Wow. I almost missed it!

Posted on Mar 2, 2013 10:00:30 AM PST
If you're into counter-culture films of that era, and a fan of Peter Boyle's work, you might want to check out Joe, a film he made during that time.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2013 12:04:42 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
1968 was all by itself a year for the ages. I am constantly remembering back to then, drawn by the extremes, both left and right, and high and low.

At the same time, it's a year which makes one want to live forever in hopes of experiencing it again -- but without war as the fire as central soundtrack.
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