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Chicago 1968

Plot Overview

A horn blares and we see, illuminated by a flashing yellow light, a broken wind­shield, and we hear a faint moaning coming from within a wrecked vehicle. WHJP TV8 roving news car has pulled over at a free­way exit signed for caution to oppor­tu­nis­ti­cally film a fresh accident (“Better call an ambulance.”) Having got the footage, they radio in, “We got coverage. We'll send it in with the bike man.” They speed off having done their job.

At a cocktail party the newsmen discuss whether or not they've got a responsibility to help alleviate the carnage they often film or just to report it. John Cassellis (Robert Forster) thinks all he needs to do is get the story (“I've got a job to do.”) He dates a nurse. They take in a roller derby where the girls get physical competing. The nurse just watches rather than tend all their minor injuries. Yet she'll criticize John for not inter­vening at his job even though he has no medical training. The example she gives is of a Pacific atoll where atomic testing confused the turtle hatchlings so they tromped inland instead of to the sea and safety. She thought the camera­men filming the story should have turned them around or some­thing.

Places of transition are dangerous, be they a freeway exit or a Pacific island beach. The 1968 Democratic Convention met to select new candidates, but it attracted civil rights marchers whom the Chicago police told to disperse and go home. Unwit­tingly joining them was Eileen (Verna Bloom) a West Virginia mom come to the city for work after her husband was a casualty to Vietnam, and now she is out looking for her boy who failed to come home, even though the police told her to stay home, that he should show up. The TV in the back­ground has reminded us of slain Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) (“Mourn the Martyr”) who inspired marches and made people mad at him. Those of us who lived through those times may remember the bloody riot in the after­math of this march. We wonder how the day will end for Eileen and for John who put his camera down to drive her around. These were dangerous times.


A key point of the plot is when a black cab driver having found $10,000 in an envelope on the back seat turns it in at the police station, and the police treat him with suspicion. John and his camera­man Gus (Peter Bonerz) are sent to get the story, and they go to the cabbie's apartment for a further inter­view. That leads to the co-residents questioning the man about why he turned it in: “Were you acting as a Negro, or were you acting as a black man?” A Negro turns it in, but a black man keeps it. A group of people who were once Negroes (or worse) are now trying to be black.

The blacks treat Gus suspiciously until they find his pageboy. When they learn it can only receive messages, not send, they label him a “honky flunky” the white equivalent of Negro, I suppose. A black man dictates.

John, the station feels, acted uppity when he wasted company film on this unauthorized interview and so he is terminated. Trying to confirm the rumor he gets even more uppity hanging up the secretary's phone while she is on it so he can call Personnel. That brings to my mind the proverb: (Prov. 5:15) “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” He shoulda found his own phone.

Solomon was applying that verse in the sexual sphere when he went on to say, (Prov. 5:16–17) “Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee.” The dispersal of fountains into “rivers of waters in the streets” was a meta­phorical pun for lots of off­spring (from thine own faith­ful wife.) The movie illustrates this pun with crowds of baby-boomers in the streets, flowing along as they're maneuvered by the police on bull­horns (“I under­stand that you have some problems.”)

Solomon enjoins felicity in a monogamous marriage, (Prov. 5:18–19) “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.” John is sexually "liberated," but with his looks and charisma—there being 4½ women to every man in DC—he could easily acquire a hot wife.

Instead, he ends up hitting on Eileen whose husband disappeared on her after his stint in Vietnam messed up his head. (Prov. 5:20–21) “And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.” He was just spending too much close time with her, contrary to the cautionary advice in, (Sirach 9:9) “Sit not at all with another man's wife, nor sit down with her in thine arms, and spend not thy money with her at the wine; lest thine heart incline unto her, and so through thy desire thou fall into destruction.”

Eileen, we see, is a baptized believer, says grace at her meals, presumably a Christian, but she is being led astray—against her resistance. Juxtaposed almost is MLK's speech on TV (presaging his death) wherein he likens him­self to the great leader Moses who brought down the Ten Commandments from the mountain: “I've been to the mountain­top.” The difference between the two leaders is Moses waited for Pharaoh's permission before marching the Israelites out of Egypt, but MLK marched with­out a parade permit. This movie doesn't document—how could it?—what would have happened had the Negroes (blacks) simply waited passively on change that was happening any­way.

Robert H. Bork in Slouching Towards Gomorrah writes:

[Researchers] Peter Brimelow and Leslie Spencer estimated that affirmative action's direct and indirect costs in 1991 were about $115 billion; opportunity costs added another $236 billion; the lowering of gross national product may have been about 4 percent. Worse, it all may be wasted. The authors quote Charles Murray: “There's hardly a single outcome—black voting rights, access to public accommodation, employment, particularly in white collar jobs—that couldn't have been predicted on the basis of pre–1964 trend lines.” “That's pretty devastating,” the authors say. “It suggests that we have spent trillions of dollars to create an out­come that would have happened even if the govern­ment had done nothing.” (238)

This 1968 movie cannot cover that issue, but it artistically ties the freedom march to the harried mom whom the police also told to cool it, and we can follow her and see what would have happened if she'd have stayed home and done nothing.

Solomon finishes his proverbial advice with, (Prov. 5:22–23) “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.” John put the moves on Eileen assuming there'd be no melo­dramatic return of her missing husband, but Buddy had instructed his son well, that “A man has got to be boss of his home,” and the son seeing his mom and John carrying on wasn't too pleased, and he set events in motion.

Eileen had been a school teacher in West Virginia, at a one-room school housing five grades. I myself had gone to a one-room school in PA housing three grades. The younger learn from the older in that setting. Here in the city they're lumped together according to grade. The younger don't profit from the wisdom of the elder that way. (Prov. 13:20) “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”

Eileen's son Harold (Harold Blankenship) (13) having been brought up in a mixed-age setting is seen in this movie playing with kids littler than he is and with adults older (“Deuces are wild.”) He comes across as very well adjusted. The baby boomers marching in the street come across as immature—though they be a political force to be reckoned with—following a leader MLK whose historical mantra was "THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW!" rather than patiently awaiting the inevitable improve­ment of their lot. True spiritual fathers have a different medium and approach, as related by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra: “Fathers of the Church wrote their books, through which they take us by the hand, and lead us from one summit to another, from one peak to another, passing beyond the stars, to the throne of God, and to the friends of God, the saints” (104).

Production Values

“Medium Cool” (1969) was directed and written by Haskell Wexler. It stars Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, and Peter Bonerz. Multitudes of unpaid and unwitting extras flashed the peace sign at just another camera as they marched. This was a hybrid movie consisting of documentary footage and acted scenes inter­twined. It was made with a crew of four with no studio support. The Negroes (blacks) in the apartment were the real deal except for one actor giving an obvious script. Verna Bloom gave such a realistic portrayal of a W.Va. woman that she hurt her career as no one would after­wards believe she wasn't from West Virginia. The man who played Buddy really was a West Virginian. Harold was a dirt poor lad who fit the part well.

This movie was originally rated ‘X’, because of some frontal (male?) nudity, but it's been edited down to an ‘R’ except the trailer is still ‘X’. The title derives from the ideas of Marshal McClullen representing that TV is a cool medium, one you can watch with a sense of immediate involvement but with no cost to you. The scenes play out with all the urgency of consumer commercials. Wexler in the end turns the camera on the audience to make us reflect on how we play a part in the drama (“The whole world's watching.”)

Mike Bloomfield made the soundtrack but there were other songs featured as well, notably by Frank Zappa. The ditty “Happy Days Are Here Again” played during some conflicts added a bit of humor.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

“Medium Cool” brought back some memories of a time I'll never see again. It had an interesting message once I was able to integrate its parts. It does seem to fly in the face of political correctness but not in a way any­one would notice with­out thinking it through. Its hybrid nature makes it disjointed unless one compares it to some of the proverbs, and then it holds continuity. Minor ironies play just below the surface. This is not usual Holly­wood fare. It should appeal mostly to artistic types and intellectuals and to any­one who enjoys reminders of the late 1960s.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed fun.

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age.

Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings.

Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day.

Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra. The Church at Prayer. Edited and annotated by The Holy Covenant of the Annunciation, Ormylia. Athens: Indiktos; Alhambra, CA: Sebastian Press. 2012. Print.

Bork, Robert H. Slouching Towards Gomorrah. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Print.

Brimelow, Peter and Leslie Spencer. "When quotas replace merit, everybody suffers," Forbes, February 15, 1993, p. 102. As quoted in Bork.