August 27, 1969
107 min, color, stereo sound
Paramount Video #6907
Written and Directed by Haskell Wexler
Includes music from "The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet" (Freak Out!), and "Are You Hung Up?"/"Who Needs The Peace Corps?" (We're Only In It For The Money).
A television cameraman working in the turbulent Chicago of the late 1960s becomes involved in the violent situations that he constantly views from behind the camera. Actual riot footage adds to the film's realism.
Star: Robert Forster
Star: Verna Bloom
Star: Marianna Hill
Star: Peter Bonerz
Star: Harold Blankenship
Star: Peter Boyle
Star: Felton Perry
Star: Robert Paige
Art Director: Leon Ericksen
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler
Composer: Michael Bloomfield
Director: Haskell Wexler
Editor: Verna Fields
Producer: Jerry Wexler
Producer: Haskell Wexler
Producer: Tully Friedman
Screenwriter: Haskell Wexler
John Cassellis is the toughtest TV-news-reporter around. He becomes an expert in reporting about violence in the ghetto and racial tensions. But he discovers that his network helps the FBI by letting them look at his tapes to find suspects. When he protests he is fired and goes to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Haskell Wexler, the director, was cinematographer for and one of the actors in Uncle Meat.
A few months ago on cable was a strange movie. I saw only about 20 minutes of it, but basically the part I saw had no dialogue but just had a camera roving around through a park with '60s protestors. They showed a dance or prom-like affair and the song that was playing was Who Needs the Peace Corps? Anyone else seen this movie?
It is most likely "Medium Cool", which features sveral MOI tunes. The Chicago riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention just "happened" while the film crew was there, so they worked it into the movie.
Medium Cool is my favorite example of genre-blurring in film. It's a fictional story about a bunch of reporters who are out to cover the 1968 Democratic convention. And what better setting to use for a film set than the 1968 Democratic convention? It gets wild and wooly with anti-personnel tanks rumbling through crowds and militant students training in the park. So it starts to lean towards a documentary, because the filmmakers obviously realized what an opportunity they had and didn't stop filming just because there was a riot going on. The amazing thing, though, is that the actors pretty much stay in character throughout the chaos. In the story, one woman gets separated from son and she goes through the city trying to find him She stumbles into a riot, and she still is calling out for her son.
Admittedly, the plot thins as the action kicks in, but this is the best blurring of genres I've ever seen. Kudos to the directors who kept the cameras rolling. Add to all of this a soundtrack with heavy doses of Mothers music. I seem to remember a scene with some people getting the shit kicked out of them in the street and you hear Zappa's "I will love the police and they kick the shit out of me in the street..." It also contains part or all of the following songs: Oh No, Are You Hung Up, Mom And Dad, Who Needs the Peace Corps, Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet, and Wild Man Fischer's Merry Go Round.
It's an amazing movie. Be warned, though, if you go to purchase it, the internet movie database says; "Due to copyright disputes, all video releases feature some different songs on the soundtrack from the theatrical version." In the version I saw, the Mothers are credited with 'incidental music'. It has been speculated that the ZFT cause the withdrawal of the music. This is totally unfounded, though, and besides, according to Greg Russo's book "Cosmik Debris", Zappa gave permission to Haskell Wexler to use the music. It also seems Ed Sanders from The Fugs invited Frank to attend the convention with him, but he declined.
In the psychedelic nightclub sequence, the band seen performing on the stage is The Litter, a Minneapolis-based group. However, in the original release version, their music is not heard; instead, we hear a piece by Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.
When the film was released on video, Paramount was sued by the copyright holders of the song "Merry-Go-Round". Under their 1969 agreement, Paramount had rights to the song for showing the film in theatres and on television. Paramount argued that video release was the same as television broadcast. The courts ruled that the copyright holder in 1969 could not have considered videocassettes to be like television broadcast, as home videocassettes were not invented.
"Medium Cool" was released in late August 1969. Wexler was Bloomfield's cousin. The DVD of the film has different music in some places on the soundtrack than the original theater release. The changes were due to rights issues and presumably many of Bloomfield's pieces were replaced. The film's nightclub sequence features a tune by Frank Zappa and the Mothers behind unsynced images of another band called The Litter. Bloomfield, however, can be heard soloing briefly in the street scene prior to the protagonists' encounter with the black militants.
Medium Cool update: FZ 2012 uME CD tracks compared to the 2015 Eureka Blu-ray disc.
From Weasels Ripped My Flesh:
Oh No 0:00-2:28
= Medium Cool 0:25:24-0:25:52
From Freak Out!:
The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet 8:10-8:23 + 9:07-9:25
= Medium Cool 1:22:40-1:23:11
From We're Only In It For The Money:
Are You Hung Up? 0:10-0:26 + 1:09-1:24
= Medium Cool 1:23:11-1:23:43
Who Needs The Peace Corps? 0:00-0:20 + 0:37-2:14
= Medium Cool 1:23:43-1:25:34
Mom & Dad 0:00-1:10
= Medium Cool 1:32:23-1:33:33
- Medium Cool was released August 27, 1969, a year before Weasels Ripped My Flesh.
- The female "Who's that" remark, around the splice in Monster Magnet, is probably added by the filmmakers.
- Mom & Dad is prolonged with a non-FZ cue, at 1:33:33-1:34:04.
- Merry-Go-Round by Wild Man Fischer is still missing.
The movie is a timeless masterpiece. The perfection is also reflected in the sparse, but highly efficient use of FZ's music. Visuals, sound and lyrics are tightly edited, giving the scenes a very sharp ironic edge.
Maintained by Román García Albertos