The Lady Doth Run Through the Protest

23 Oct 2013: Medium Cool (DVD, 1969, Haskell Wexler)

I don’t think there’s too much documentary 35mm protest footage (or historical footage of any kind whatsoever) in existence anywhere, and especially not in this time period. This film stands out for that novelty alone, which goes far in pushing the uncanny qualities of blending the fiction of its story with the reality of its surroundings: it’s almost impossible to believe that something captured on the same standard format typically exclusive to big-budgeted movie productions is not staged for the cameras, but on the other hand when conceded as a truth it elevates that document into something as profound and meaningful as an aesthetic opus – the latter lately cornering the market on the profound and meaningful, as unlike the former it must be brought to the market to be experienced. The ending segment of the film, which follows a main character in a bright yellow dress as she searches for her missing son through actual protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, redeems whatever minor shortcomings the whole has (unconvincing dialogue at times, conventionality of style that perhaps impedes the radicality of content, refusal to take stances or even engage much with the politics and analyses swarming throughout) by sheer sensory exhilaration, especially a lateral tracking shot that passes blocksful of army jeeps as the aforementioned character walks along a sidewalk behind them and in part of which a particularly striking shot out of In the Realm of the Senses is presaged. Other uniquenesses include the unusual depiction of poor white ghettos (recent arrivals from Appalachia) in which the cameraman protagonist finds himself as well as the pre-blaxploitation voice given to black-is-beautiful radicals articulately unhappy with the way they are portrayed and treated, in addition to a great deal of handheld camerawork that feels much steadier and richer than most movies today, yet without leaning entirely on such cinematography to convey emotion and intensity. There are many beautiful compositions to arrest the eye during the course of the story that build in power to approach a kind of finality of their own as the near-circular structure concludes.

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