Tell Them Who You Are
Dir. Mark Wexler. 2004. R. 95mins. Documentary.
Even Haskell Wexler's friends admit the legendary cinematographer, filmmaker (Medium Cool) and left-wing political agitator is not an easy man to love. Wexler's son Mark, a filmmaker in his own right, assigned himself the task of making this documentary portrait as a way to get closer to his difficult father, who's now in his eighties but has definitely not mellowed with age.
Some reviewers have dismissed the result as an indulgent exercise in family therapy, but the edgy and often uncomfortable father-son dynamics here are a far cry from Oprah. "You've been around three different angles now," Haskell barks at Mark in a representative moment of tenderness. "Does that mean you're a perfectionist or you don't know what the hell you're doing?"
To a certain extent the tensions between the men are political: Haskell is an unreconstructed '60s radical who makes disparaging remarks about Mark's more conservative leanings. But it's hard to imagine their relationship would be any smoother if they saw eye-to-eye on U.S. foreign policy. The fascinating overview of Haskell's turbulent career reveals a compulsive need for friction and confrontation, which, according to many colleagues, kept him from reaching his full potential as an artist.
Ultimately the movie is as much about filmmaking as it is about growing up in the shadow of a famous but distant father. The documentary gives the fractious pair a pretext for spending time together, but Haskell never stops trying to wrest control of the camera from his son, and even withholds his signature from the consent form required for the film's release until he has approved the final cut. The final scene shows Haskell signing at last, which is probably about as close to Dr. Phil–style "closure" as Mark is ever going to get.—Cliff Doerksen