Haskell Wexler and Medium Cool


Haskell Wexler develops an increasingly unique style, a growing interest in documentaries, and cinema verite with Medium Cool and beyond. But he started in TV with the series OZZIE AND HARRIET ten years earlier in 1959. It strikes me Ozzie et al were the first TV REALITY SHOW. I mean, thinking back to that series which I certainly watched for glimpses of Ricki entering puberty, and loving every slo-mo minute of Ozzie loping through life (a father whose ire took a long time to rise), the camera moved into the house as a silent partner and we were watching a family in real time. Boy but consumption for a wilder ride has grown. TV IS STILL THE MACHINE THAT FELL TO EARTH, and always worried everybody. Read on…….

     c.1968 ~ Chicago Democratic National Convention (45 years ago).

MEDIUM COOL (click for link to 12 min YouTube intro), Directed by Filmmaker Haskell Wexler.  1969 (Wikipedia – plot summary):

“The title comes from Marshall McLuhan‘s work in which he described TV as a “cool” medium. The “cooler” the medium, “the more someone has to uncover and engage in the media” in order to “fill in the blanks.” The movie questions the role and responsibilities of television and its newscasts.

“John Cassellis (Robert Forster) is a television news cameraman. In one of the opening scenes, a group of cameramen and journalists are discussing the ethical responsibilities within their profession: When should filming a gruesome scene end and human responsibility to try to save a life begin? As viewers we are presented with issues such as violence as spectacle, political and social discontent, extreme racism, and class divisions. The film is constantly juggling documentary footage with feature film image. Among his sources, Wexler uses footage from military training camps in Illinois for military troops preparing for planned demonstrations by students and anti-war activists during the Democratic National Convention later that summer.

“Cassellis is seemingly hardened to ethical and social issues; he is more concerned with pursuing women like Ruth (Marianna Hill). Yet once Cassellis finds out that his news station has been providing the stories and information gathered by the cameramen and news journalists to the FBI, he becomes enraged. The news station creates an excuse to fire him, and Cassellis is let go. Subsequently, Cassellis meets a widow, Eileen, whose husband has died in the Vietnam War. Eileen (Verna Bloom) and her son, Harold, have moved from West Virginia to Chicago and Cassellis grows fond of them both.”

The film’s music: guitarist Mike Bloomfield (Haskell Wexler’s cousin) and early Frank Zappa.

TV is still the machine that fell to earth.    It’s still a medium that worries everybody, and part of that is being the medium cool.

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