Haskell Wexler’s countercultural classic marked a historic turning point for US politics and cinema. A vivid retelling of 1968’s pivotal shift “beyond the age of innocence”, it was also at the vanguard of the Hollywood Renaissance. Like Network (1976), Wexler’s debut is a gripping, paranoid critique of television news, but with an anarchic spiritedness all of its own.
More than a period piece, Medium Cool emphasises the ambiguous role of the camera in social change – a “cool medium”, in Marshall McLuhan’s words inspiring the film’s title. Through its dramatic narration of a TV news cameraman woken up to the turbulent politics of the era, the film emphasises the power of footage either to reinforce or challenge the status quo. It’s the latter that the film performs, its pioneering mixture of fiction and nonfiction capturing a culture on fire, and by doing so throwing more fuel on the flames.