The son of acclaimed cinematographer Haskell Wexler confronts his complex father by turning the camera on him. What results is a portrait of a difficult genius and a son's path out of the shadow of a famous father.
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Mark Wexler's cinematic blend of biography and autobiography centers on his relationship with his father, legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer and filmmaker Haskell Wexler, whose long and illustrious career is a virtual catalogue of 20th-century classics. Haskell's collaborations with such world-class filmmakers as Elia Kazan, Milos Forman, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Mike Nichols include such works as WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, COMING HOME, BOUND FOR GLORY and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. The film features interviews with many of these artists, along with such luminaries as Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Sidney Poitier. But the true "star" of TELL THEM WHO YOU ARE is Haskell himself, a controversial, larger-than-life character who challenges his son's filmmaking skills while announcing with complete conviction that he could have done a better job directing most of the movies he's shot. As these two men swap positions on camera and behind it... Written by
Words and Music by Leadbelly (as Huddie Ledbetter) and John A. Lomax
Courtesy of TRO - Ludlow Music, Inc.
Performed by The Weavers
Licensed from and used by permission of Vanguard Records, a Welk music Group Company
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Moving exploration of living in the shadow of greatness
I grew up in Chicago and was 18 years old when the riots broke out there during the 1968 Democratic Convention. I didn't go down there because my Chicago Democrat father would have thrown me out of the house if I had gotten involved. So I saw the riots going on 8 miles from house on TV, while Haskell Wexler was down in the streets making a film about how the media was shaping my beliefs about the situation. I think that about sums up my "personal" relationship to Haskell Wexler. When I saw the film Medium Cool, my mind was altered forever. I eventually got a doctorate in communications research and I teach young people about the influence of media in their world and about how they can use the media to change the world.
I sense that the mediocre rating of this film may be due to the fact that people could miss the absolute perfect symmetry of this film. They fail to see how the father forces the son into cinema verite mode (far away from the controlled format of the Smithsonian type of documentary that Mark was used to) and how the son accepts this and creates a film that the father can sign off on. There is a lot of truth in this film. Even if Mark's values do not mirror Haskell's, he is unafraid to expose his own feelings. And I get a sense that Haskell's influence on his son is more profound than he realizes through much of the film. Also, coming from my own lefty perspective, I found the exploration of a life well lived to be inspirational. This film has just surfaced on Sundance Channel in 2006 and if you are interested in finding some of the connecting threads in Haskell's life or are the sort of man who cried watching "Field of Dreams," it's well worth the watch.
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