RIP Haskell Wexler!
One of America’s most acclaimed Cinematographers/Directors has died…here is the story from Deadline.com:
A longtime liberal activist, Wexler photographed some of the most socially relevant and influential films of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Jane Fonda-Jon Voight anti-war classic, “Coming Home”, as well as the 1969 Best Picture winner “In the Heat of the Night”. He worked with Francis Ford Coppola on the Ocar-nominated “The Conversation”, and worked with George Lucas on “American Graffiti”. Finally, he also worked on the 1975 Oscar-winning Best Picture “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.
One of his most influential films was 1969’s “Medium Cool”, which he financed himself for $800,000. Here is a look at this brilliant film.
“The Whole World Is Watching!”
Even though we currently live in contentious political times, history has shown that nothing has changed. So many significant cultural events get lost to time.
For example, most people don’t remember that the 1968 Democratic national convention held in Chicago ended up in a riot that led to the iconic phrase “the whole world is watching”!
We haven’t had this sort of political unrest in awhile – it seems that social media has taken over as a communal “protest” device – probably the most recent example of political protests taking to the streets is the “Occupy” movement from a few years ago…
Dan Rather Assaulted!
Long before REM sang about Dan Rather in “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?”, the veteran New Anchor was a CBS News Reporter assigned to cover the democratic national convention – from the convention floor…no big deal, right?
Well, look at this! I found some footage of Rather being assaulted by security guards as he was trying to do a live report from the convention floor!
This political convention captured the turmoil of the times – anti-war protests were everywhere, and violence was erupting at most of them. More on this dramatic time in our history in a moment, but first, let’s look at a legendary movie that actually captured it all!
Time To Celebrate “Medium Cool!”
“Medium Cool” is a 1969 film directed by Cinematographer Haskell Wexler that told the story of a news cameraman who captures the Chicago convention riots – and the filmmakers actually filmed scenes for the movie in the midst of the mayhem – while the riots were going on!
The film stars Robert Forster, who Quentin Tarantino cast in his classic “Jackie Brown”. “Medium Cool” also starred Verna Bloom, and was filmed in Chicago in the summer of 1968. The movie became much more than a film when Wexler decided to shoot several scenes around the protests that were taking place outside the Democratic convention.
Here is the trailer:
Many political observers feel that the student protests undermined Vice President Herbert Humphrey, and led to Richard Nixon’s victory in November. As you see in the film, the protests were real, and they became violent because the Police decided to attack the protesters!
There is a moment during the riots when you can actually hear this line shouted out:
“Watch out, Haskell, it’s real!”
That was a crew member warning Director Haskell Wexler that things were getting out of control – and they were, but guess what? That line was actually dubbed in after the shooting! According to the website IMDB, it was what Director Wexler was thinking to himself as he was filming – as the reality of the riot was closing in on him – and he wanted to include it in the film!
In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Here is the newly released Criterion Collection special edition.
Kudos To The Criterion Collection!
As always, The Criterion Collection has saved a film from neglect and restored it for the ages! Here is what you get on the newly remaster blu-ray:
New, restored 4K digital film transfer, approved by director Haskell Wexler, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
Two audio commentaries, one featuring Wexler, editorial consultant Paul Golding, and actor Marianna Hill, and the other featuring historian Paul Cronin
New interview with Wexler
Extended excerpts from “Look Out Haskell, It’s Real!,” a documentary by Cronin about the making of Medium Cool, featuring interviews with Wexler; Golding; actors Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, and Robert Forster; Chicago historian Studs Terkel; and others
Excerpts from Sooner or Later, Cronin’s documentary about Harold Blankenship, who plays Harold in the film
“Medium Cool” Revisited, a new half-hour video by Wexler about the Occupy movement’s protests against the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago
Wow! What a great collection of extras for the film!
“Medium Cool” captured the chaos around the 1968 Democratic National convention, but here is the story of what CBS News Reporter Dan Rather captured inside the building!
Dan Rather Assaulted Inside The Convention!
For people who wonder how politics has turned so ugly, you need to remember some of the darkest moments from our political past as well. While trying to interview a Georgia delegate being escorted out of the building, CBS News correspondent Dan Rather was grabbed by security guards and assaulted. Here is the clip that aired on national television:
As you can see, the entire incident was captured live on television. Rather was heard saying to the guards, “Don’t push me” and “Take your hands off me unless you plan to arrest me”!”
Cronkite then said simply:
“I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.”
The 1968 Chicago Riots!
August 28, 1968 came to be known as the day a “police riot” took place. The title of “police riot” came out of the Walker Report, which amassed a great deal of information and eyewitness accounts to determine what happened in Chicago.
More than 10,000 protesters gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park to protest America’s war in Vietnam. The protest was planned to coincide with the Democratic National Convention.
According to wikipedia, soon after the protest began, bottles and rocks were thrown and the police moved in with tear gas. Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society, encouraged protesters to move out of the park to ensure that if they were to be tear gassed, the whole city would be tear gassed, and made sure that if blood were spilled in Chicago it would happen throughout the city.
The amount of tear gas used to suppress the protesters was so great that it eventually made its way to the Hilton Hotel, where it disturbed Vice President Hubert Humphrey while he was in the shower!
The police assault in front of the Hilton Hotel the evening of August 28 became the most famous image of the Chicago demonstrations of 1968. The entire event took place live under the T.V. lights for seventeen minutes with the crowd shouting what has become an iconic line in history:
“The whole world is watching!”
This is just one of many dark moments in our nation’s political history, and in many cases, history continues to repeat itself.
This was the election that saw Richard Nixon win the presidency over Humphrey, and we all know how that went! The office of the President is filled with dramatic historical moments like this!
RIP Haskell Weller, and thanks for leaving us with such an incredible body of work…
“Medium Cool” is one of the most important films about politics, but there are some incredible books about the subject as well…
“The Destiny Of The Republic!”
If you haven’t read this book, it’s the tragic – and TRUE – story of the botched presidential assassination of beloved President James Garfield – except that he wasn’t murdered by his Assassin – he was killed by the White House doctors! Read this fascinating look at the Presidency by clicking here:
The entire political process fascinates me, no matter how broken the system is!
Read a terrific inside look at the world inside DC’s beltway by clicking here:
And let me know what you think of “Medium Cool!”
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