While my tastes are much more tuned to controlled style and deliberate directorial choices, I can certainly appreciate and gape in awe at documentary realism when it is applied to fiction with real verve. Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool might be one of the most immediate films I’ve ever seen in this regard.
The film is constructed like a whirlwind, violently smashing together reality and creation to the point where you’re left wondering which is which. The camera bounces off of the walls and submerges itself into the heart of drama at all times. Sex, politics and the open veins of dark America are on full display before Wexler’s lens and the savage bite draws hot blood. Even though I wasn’t alive during the times of Medium Cool and know little about the troubles it tackles, they are captured within it like lightning in a bottle. It feels so authentic and of it’s time in a really magnificent way.
Robert Forster is one of my absolute favourite characters actors so to see him used like this – in a film mostly free of genre – was pretty thrilling. He is such a terrific actor and this film, released early on in his career, is a potent display of his talents. The character he plays here isn’t necessarily likable but his attitude and demeanor seems to be especially representative of many people’s opinions during this period.
I’m not sure I’ll return to Medium Cool over and over again but it is a film that leaves a bruise. I haven’t seen an American film from this period that is built and designed quite like it. It is a look at 60s America through a very complex eye and it’s no wonder the film continues to fascinate and engage audiences the older it gets.