The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was blazingly hot—chaotic protests, berserk cops, old pols shaking their fists at impertinent youth.
Among other memorable chronicles (like the saga of the Chicago Seven), that convention produced cinematographer Haskell Wexler‘s Medium Cool (1969), which brilliantly threaded a fictional narrative into documentarian footage.
Now, 36 years later, in an era in which disobedience in the face of another unjust war is far too civil, we’re still trying to recover from the totalitarian frostbite of the chillingly cold Republican National Convention—protesters abandoned by their natural allies in the national Democratic Party and subjected to pre-emptive plastic handcuffery practiced by thousands of troops before a mostly complaisant press corps.
But coming soon to a theater near you will be Medium Hot, the working title of a fact/fiction project on the RNC by New York filmmaker Charles “Chip” Krezell. In a way, it will be a riff on Wexler.
Judging by Krezell’s notable 28-minute video Not My President, a nice slice of protest life at the January 2001 coronation in D.C. of George W. Bush, Medium Hot ought to be worthwhile. (See Not My President here, courtesy of the Free Speech Network.)
From what Krezell tells me, Medium Hot, “shot in a guerrilla style,” is a properly 21st-century update of Wexler: “Two guys come to NYC to shoot video of the convention,” they meet a girl, a romance follows. After things heat up in the street, Krezell says, “the two guys get radicalized.”
Krezell’s actors mixed with “real” people during the convention protests, and the shooting went well, he tells me. “Things were pretty crazy,” he says. “We ended up with 43 tapes, and more are coming in.”
Immediately after the convention, he took his actors back out onto the streets to finish the shooting.
Going with the flow, Krezell altered his story line “to reflect the police tactics.” He adds, “It wasn’t much different than I had imagined—with the heavy-handed, swarming cop squads—except that it didn’t erupt into violence. The effectiveness of police actions frustrated people trying to protest, and the pre-emptive arrests and prolonged detainments used until Bush left town are all part of the story line now.”
But don’t mistake this for a strict homage either to Wexler or to Marshall McLuhan.
“My idea for Medium Hot,” he says, “was to take the original story as a reflection of the times—with the digital accessibility of media to the masses, the medium has passed from McLuhan’s cool to hot, with everyone embedded in their own movie. The notion of objectivity that Wexler played with doesn’t wash anymore. Everything is subjective, for better or worse. To find a middle ground is much more difficult now than it was even in ’68.”