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Medium Cool Details


"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. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi

  • Release date:August 27, 1969


Awarded by
Directors Guild of America Haskell Wexler Best Director 1969 Nominee


Robert Forster
as John
Verna Bloom
as Eileen
Peter Bonerz
as Gus
Marianna Hill
as Ruth
Harold Blankenship
as Harold
Charles Geary
as Buddy, Harold's Father
Sid McCoy
as Frank Baker
Christine Bergstrom
as Dede
William Sickinger
as News Director
Robert McAndrew
as Pennybaker
Marrian Walters
as Social Worker
Beverly Younger
as Rich Lady
Edward Croke
as Plainclothesman
Doug Kimball
as Newscaster
Peter Boyle
as Gun Clinic Manager
Janet Langhart
as Maid
Jeff Donaldson
as Black Militant
Robert Paige
as Black Militant
Richard Abrams
as Black Militant
Felton Perry
as Black Militant
Val Grey
as Black Militant
Livingston Lewis
as Black Militant
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 Ladies
China Lee
Haskell Wexler
as Cameraman on Scaffold
Barbara Jones
as Black militant
George Bouillet
as Media person
Studs Terkel
as Our Man in Chicago
Barbara Jones
as Black militant
Haskell Wexler
as Cameraman on Scaffold
George Bouillet
as Media person


Haskell Wexler
Haskell Wexler
Tully Friedman
Haskell Wexler
Haskell Wexler
Verna Fields
Leon Ericksen
Art Director
Kay Rose
Sound Editor