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1 item from 2004

Tell Them Who You Are

16 September 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Screened Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Among the telling facts that emerge from Tell Them Who You Are, photojournalist Mark S. Wexler's documentary about his dad, legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler, is that when Haskell was young he helped organize a strike by workers in his father's own factory. Another equally telling fact is that Mark, the son of one of Hollywood's most notable left-wingers, is politically conservative and more than willing to goad his father by giving him a framed photo of himself with the first President Bush.

Clearly, a spirit of contrariness and familial rebellion runs through the Wexler clan. It is that spirit which makes Tell Them such a lively, often hilarious yet profoundly moving experience. The film is less a documentary about Haskell Wexler than a complex portrait of a most difficult father-son relationship, one in which a son struggles his whole life to step out from his father's domineering shadow.

More festival dates loom, but the film is an excellent candidate for theatrical distribution as well as for TV exposure. Haskell might even find it in his heart to be proud of his son. But don't bet on it.

From the opening moment, you realize this will not be a conventional docu as its subject keeps trying to tell the director what to do. In one wonderfully funny sequence, the two shout at each other in a hotel room as Haskell tries to tell Mark his feelings about a day spent at an antiwar rally last year while Mark tries to maneuver his father into the fading sunlight. "This is not a fucking Miller Beer commercial!" yells the exasperated cameraman.

Both Wexlers are constantly shooting each other with their individual cameras as Haskell tries but fails to influence how the movie will view him. There is certainly no argument that, as director Norman Jewison puts it, Haskell can be a "pain in the ass" on a set.

Mark interviews a number of movie personalities including Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Billy Crystal. One key figure is the late cinematographer Conrad Hall, one of Haskell's closest friends and a man whom Mark admits he would have liked to have for a father. Curiously, Hall's own son has a similar affinity for Mark's dad.

The things that drive Haskell -- his politics, values and fear of intimacy -- clearly kept him from becoming what he probably should have been: a director. (He did, of course, direct the landmark film Medium Cool.) The final moments, when the two men pay a visit to Mark's ailing mother, an Alzheimer's patient, will leave few dry eyes in the audience.

This is a remarkable work.


Wexlers World


Director/writer/director of photography: Mark S. Wexler

Additional photography: Sarah Levy

Music: Blake Leyh

Editor: Robert DeMaio

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 95 minutes »

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