Director: Mark S. Wexler
Midway through the emotionally charged documentary Tell Them Who You Are helmed by the son of two time Academy Award winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, Haskell tells son Mark and viewers that he believes most directors are stupid and states, “I don’t think there’s a movie I’ve been on that I didn’t think I could direct better.” While such arrogance is shocking to say the least, it’s even more so when faced with Haskell Wexler’s enviable filmography which reads like an impressive history of some of the most important American filmmaking including Nichols’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Ashby’s Coming Home and Bound For Glory, Jewison’s In The Heat of the Night and George Lucas’s American Graffiti. This isn’t even taking into account the impressive films in which Wexler senior was removed from during the shoot such as Coppola’s The Conversation, Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Malick’s Days of Heaven. When faced with the sweepingly gorgeous scope of these films, it’s easy to become entranced by Wexler and given to hero worship as he is one of the greats of all time, responsible for innovative techniques such as helping to pioneer cinema verite, mount cameras to capture tracking and dolly shots on his own long before the equipment was there and his innate ability to play with light, shadow and color that’s all the more astounding considering his partial color-blindness. However, Medium Cool director Wexler wasn’t interested in a standard mythic biography filled with glowing anecdotes and sunny memories—instead, in the hands of his son who has followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a filmmaker (documentarian) and noted photojournalist but adopted the opposite political views of his liberal father’s background, there’s a lot of pain in their relationship that’s evident from the opening as a simply request to establish scene brings about a downward spiral of profanities and judgment. The tone of Tell Them Who You Are is best described as uneasy—it’s not a by-the-numbers documentary by any means and there’s a lot of anger and attitude that charge each frame (sometimes the men explode back and forth) yet there’s also a large amount of love and respect and while you feel a bit as though you’re catching a glimpse of a family fight you want to creep back away from, it’s hard to ignore. Filled with balanced interviews from some famous associates who range in their views from adoring to irritated, Mark tracks down Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Norman Jewison, George Lucas, Paul Newman and others, Wexler’s film which played at the Toronto International Film Festival is a must for classic American film buffs and for those curious about the usage of the medium of documentary filmmaking for exploratory and challenging portraits.