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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Medium Cool [Blu-ray]

 

(Haskell Wexler, 1969)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: H & J

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #658

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:50:39.674

Disc Size: 49,726,461,446 bytes

Feature Size: 32,845,086,720 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.97 Mbps

Chapters: 23

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: May 21st, 2013

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentaries:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• Two audio commentaries, one featuring Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding, and actor Marianna Hill, and the other featuring historian Paul Cronin
New interview with Wexler (14:52)
Extended excerpts from “Look Out Haskell, It’s Real!,” a documentary by Cronin about the making of Medium Cool, featuring interviews with Wexler; Golding; actors Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, and Robert Forster; Chicago historian Studs Terkel; and others (53:10)
Excerpts from Sooner or Later, Cronin’s documentary about Harold Blankenship, who plays Harold in the film (15:50)
“Medium Cool” Revisited, a new half-hour video by Wexler about the Occupy movement’s protests against the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago (33:16)
Trailer (3:27)
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic and programmer Thomas Beard

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: It’s 1968, and the whole world is watching. With the U.S. in social upheaval, famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler decided to make a film about what the hell was going on. Medium Cool, his debut feature, plunges us into the moment. With its mix of fictional storytelling and documentary technique, this depiction of the working world and romantic life of a television cameraman (Robert Forster) is a visceral cinematic snapshot of the era, climaxing with an extended sequence shot right in the middle of the riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. An inventive commentary on the pleasures and dangers of wielding a camera, Medium Cool is as prescient a political film as Hollywood has ever produced.

 

 

The Film:

"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.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

Focusing on a news cameraman's responses and responsibilities to the world framed through his lens - in particular, the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and its attendant political riots, during which parts of the film were shot - ace liberal cinematographer Wexler's feature debut as director is a fascinating though not wholly successful fusion of cinéma-vérité and political radicalism. Already under the FBI's gaze for his civil rights and socialist documentaries, Wexler was actually accused of inciting the Chicago riots (the script was registered a year before); later he would again be subpoenaed over Emile de Antonio's film on the Weather Underground, which he shot. Recent movies owing a sizeable debt to Medium Cool include Newsfront and Circle of Deceit.

Excerpt from Timeout Film Guide located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Medium Cool looks excellent on Blu-ray from Criterion.  We have an film shot with a variety of styles and film types, but the 1080P image looks much more alive than the old SD.  There are examples of grain and texture that give it a real film-like appearance. This is dual-layered with a high bitrate and we can guess that it is a solid representation of the film. It is advertised as "...restored 4K digital film transfer, approved by director Haskell Wexler". It is in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and contrast and detail look healthy - as do the colors - notable in the Roller Derby sequences. They is not a lot of depth. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and supplies a wonderful HD presentation. I imagine that it looked this impressive in its original theatrical run.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Audio is in the form of an authentic linear PCM mono track at 1152 kbps. It is predictably flat but there are touches of depth. The original score is by Mike Bloomfield (who wrote a piece used in Easy Rider) and it sounds quite solid in the lossless transfer. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.

 

Extras :

Criterion has really done wonders with stacking this package with valuable extras. We get two audio commentaries, the first is duplicated from the 2001 Paramount DVD featuring Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding, and actor Marianna Hill, and the other has historian Paul Cronin, who really knows his sh*t, putting a different perspective on the film's reaction and longer term perceptions. We get a new 15-minute interview with Wexler as he discusses his documentary work, his involvement in the civil rights movement and how Medium Cool still resonates with him. We get almost an hour of extended excerpts from “Look Out Haskell, It’s Real!,” a 2001 documentary by Cronin about the making of Medium Cool, featuring interviews with Wexler; Golding; actors Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, and Robert Forster; Chicago historian Studs Terkel; and others. Included are 15-minutes of excerpts from Sooner or Later, Cronin’s documentary about Harold Blankenship, who plays Harold in the film. “Medium Cool” Revisited, a new half-hour video by Wexler, returning to Chicago, about the Occupy movement’s protests against the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. It runs slight over 1/2 an hour. There is also a trailer plus a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic and programmer Thomas Beard.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
So much has been said of Medium Cool - but it still seems so... inadequate. It has so many layers of political thought and visceral human understanding - all from the level of simple 'observance'. This is a masterpiece and the Criterion Blu-ray package offers a worthy 1080P a/v presentation with bountiful extras. Very strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze

April 29th, 2013


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
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Gary W. Tooze

 

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