Medium Cool: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

May 22, 2013 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

As the 1968 Democratic National Convention rolls forward in Chicago, the streets become overrun with protests, violence, and at times, utter chaos. The city has been having problems with political issues, racial tension, and all sorts of other troubles, all of which will soon come to a head with serious consequences. John Casselis (Robert Forster) has found himself in the midst of the uproar, with his camera in hand and as each moment passes, he seems to be pulled deeper and deeper into the chaos. He is the toughest cameraperson in the business, he is an expert on the issues involved in this mess, and he knows how to get his images, but in all of this, even he is unsure of what to expect at times. But before he was in Chicago, he did normal news work and soon discovered his network used his tapes in exchanges with the F.B.I., so he left his job there and headed off to the convention. As tensions continue to mount and violence begins to erupt, can even Casselis keep his cool, survive the chaos, and capture it all on tape?

I’d read a lot of positive reviews on Medium Cool and as such, I checked it out as soon as possible, only to be somewhat let down. I guess the whole part reality, part fiction never sparked with me, as I found Medium Cool to be a decent picture, but nothing more. I still don’t find this to be a masterpiece or even effective in delivering a real message, but then again, I might not the kind of person Medium Cool is aimed at, so who knows. I think most of the effective scenes involve real events with actors involved, which sort of cheapens the flick in my eyes, since the real life events were just used to enhance an otherwise mediocre picture. I enjoy documentary films and normal motion pictures, but the two worlds are never combined to effective ends here, in my opinion. Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) gives a solid performance, but the rest of the cast is anemic and without much good outside of the reality based scenes, I am stuck recommending this one as a rental.

Video: How does it look?

This was released by Paramount about ten years ago as one of their more “standard releases” but Criterion, as they so often do, has raised the bar exponentially on this classic title. A brand new 4K transfer has been minted and the result is nothing short of stunning.  The movie has a very natural look and feel to it, which one might expect for a film made in the 60’s.  Colors are strong, contrast is rock solid and though there’s a fine layer of grain throughout, it really gives the film a more naturalistic and genuine look.  This is yet another testament to Criterion and their commitment to excellence.

Audio: How does it sound?

Nothing has changed from the previous DVD to this new Blu-ray.  An LPCM 1.0 mono option is used and is more than adequate, given the nature of the movie and the documentary style approach used. The audio is rather basic and bland for the most part, but the music keeps things alive and plays a large role in the audio scheme here. The music is about as expansive as mono allows, while dialogue and sound effects are acceptable, but never become too memorable. In the end, the audio is well presented and while not too impressive, all the bases seem to have been covered with this track. This disc also includes English subtitles, should you need to enable those as you watch.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Some of the supplements from the Paramount DVD have been ported over, but we’re treated to a new bevy of supplements with this Criterion Blu-ray.  First up are a pair of audio commentaries, the first with director Haskell Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding, and actress Marianna Hill.  If memory serves, this was the same track used for the Paramount DVD and it was recorded in 2001.  The second is a brand new track by Paul Cronin, who made the four-hour documentary Look Out Haskell, It’s Real!  Moving on we find “Haskell Wexler” a 15 minute featurette on the director of the film and the interview was conducted by Criterion in 2013.  “Look Out Haskell, It’s Real!” features some extended excerpts from the aforementioned documentary by Paul Cronin. “Harold Blankenship” features an interview with the actor and this is taken from a 2007 documentary, also by Paul Cronin.  Finally we get “Medium Cool, Revisited” in which director Haskell Wexler returns back to Chicago (in 2012) as he talks with the members of the OCCUPY movement.  Rounding out the supplements are a trailer and the ever-so-present booklet with an essay by Thomas Beard.

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