Medium Cool

What a curious movie. Part fiction and part documentary, back from a time when that didn't mean what it means to us today. You take a couple actors and weave a story around them and shoot it all around the events of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Haxell Wexler with his cameras in the streets of the Second City following an actress acting some kind of part while all the people in the streets act another kind of part and the police of Mayor Daly act their own part, and do it well altho they will realize later that they were perhaps acting the wrong part for that day, event, location, that they were overacting.

There is a journalist who loses his job. There is a woman with a son who lives in an apartment in a poor section of the city. The journalist is a male, white, a professional who isn't afraid to go into a black neighborhood and talk to people there and really see how he just doesn't get it. Power with such a straight face but so earnest. His sidekick the soundman, the actor who would show up years later as the dentist on the Bob Newhart Show (how convenient, he got to stay in Chicago). The journalist is in the auditorium as the Democratic Party hems and haws as the woman walks thru the streets near Lincoln Park and the South Loop as the protesters take over the streets and face faceless cops with a century of tradition cylindrified in their nightsticks. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe this end in the streets, this meeting of news and fiction in the streets is one kind of freakout scene.

The traditional freakout scene is a little earlier in the movie. A party with a band and mod art and mod cutting and groovy stroboscopic effects to freak you out just a little. One of the usual brand of artistic freakout scenes. One of the usual, like in Midnight Cowboy, so many other movies of the day.

But what about in the streets, this freakout of politics, this Power to the People chanting and holding signs and moving the whole weight of the world or trying before the cameras of the press. This is a movie, we even see Haxel Wexler, the director, the camera-operator, at the end of the film, pointing his camera at us; is he challenging us to keep on making the movie, is he telling us to do something, where are his director's cues, where is his call for Action. No, he's just behind the camera, cranking on the tripod and making focus, trying to get at the distance between the TV screen and our easy chair, or the theatre screen and our exact location in the fifth row.


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This page last revised 12 November 1997