Medium Cool

Screening and discussion with filmmaker Haskell Wexler
Thursday, May 27, 2010 - 7:00pm

Introduction by Judy Hoffman, Department of Cinema and Media Studies

Within the framework of the groundbreaking film Medium Cool (1969), Haskell Wexler will discuss his approaches to cinema, filmmaking and the career he forged in Chicago during the era just before video changed the method and technique of documentary image gathering. What does it mean to film on film…as a documentarian… as a cinematographer? These questions intrigue and resonate with Wexler and will inform the discussion of his work in this very special screening with the award-winning director.

Taking place during the real events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, an event remembered for its police brutality and rioting, Wexler’s feature Medium Cool has been described as a film that systematically questions the ideological power of images by combining documentary techniques such as "talking heads" and cinéma vérité with staged scenes between the actors. By the time Wexler and his crew started filming the cast among the actual events at the convention, all barriers between fiction and fact had broken down, as, in a most famous moment during the film, Wexler’s assistant can be heard off camera warning, "Watch out, Haskell, it's real."

Winner of two Academy Awards in cinematography for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Bound For Glory, Wexler was adjudged one of the ten most influential cinematographers in movie history, according to an International Cinematographers Guild survey of its membership. He began his career working on industrial films in Chicago (particularly noteworthy is his work with Encyclopedia Brittanica) and moved into independent documentary and feature production working with such directorial luminaries as Mike Nichols and Terrence Malick. In addition to his masterful cinematography, Wexler directed several films including the seminal 1960s film Medium Cool. Wexler is the recipient of an Emmy for his 1980 documentary Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang, an Independent Spirit Award for cinematography on John Sayles’ Matewan, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 from the American Society of Cinematographers.

Medium Cool (Wexler, 1969, 35mm, 111 min)

Funded by grants from the University of Chicago Arts Council, Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Chicago Studies Program.