Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Medium Cool (1969)

By Eric Jessen 6/23/09

The ending was completely unexpected, bewildering. Was there a gun shot, an assassin? Was it an accident? I can't tell. I'm probably supposed to be thinking of JFK, or MLK, or other assassinated 60's people. When I saw the ending it felt good, and new. I thought, hmmmm, that seems deep. (It was the same feeling at the end of Easy Rider, The Graduate, and Midnight Cowboy, all movies I liked.)
However, it didn't take me long to think, that ending didn't mean anything. In fact, this entire movie is meaningless. It feels very 60's and cool, but that's not enough. When it came out it probably was seen as a milestone. Roger Ebert said in his 1969 review that director Haskell Wexler “has made almost the perfect example of the new movie.” He is right about that, but Wexler's Medium Cool is an example of the new movie for the wrong reasons. It's a movie of style and feeling and an environment.(60's, Chicago, protests, hippies, blah, blah, blah....) It is not a movie for thought.
There is a story to tell. I think there was supposed to be a narrative. There is a cameraman (Robert Foster) who loses his job, falls for a single mother (Verna Bloom), and connects with her son, all while living with a trendy model. The narrative, or the idea for the narrative, is not that new, but in Medium Cool it seems new. Why? Because it was chopped up with only a few scenes left for us to figure it all out. I love when movies leave things off screen, and leave things for the audience to surmise, but in this case it is done without reason. All the scenes that might have had passion were left out and the lifeless ones left in. As a result the side show narrative to all the documentary style footage of riots and mobs.... is empty. What is left is ambiguous so it seems meaningful, but it is really just shallow. Is chopping up this narrative director Haskell Wexler's version of Jean-Luc Godard's jump cuts in Breathless? Is the last scene supposed to be like Peter Fonda saying “we blew it” in Easy Rider, or the shot of John Voight holding Dustin Hoffman in his arms at the end of Midnight Cowboy, or Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross on the buss at the end of the Graduate? (okay, enough movie reverences) I may have been fooled all those times, thinking they stood for something, maybe I just enjoyed those movies more, but either way I won't be fooled again.

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