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USA 2004
Directed by
Mark Wexler
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Tell Them Who You Are

Veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler won an Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966 and again for the Woody Guthrie biopic, Bound for Glory, in 1976 and is renowned in Hollywood not only for his skill but also his challenging personality. Here his son, Mark who describes himself as "the son of a famous father, struggling to get out from under the shadow" turns the camera on his father, at the same time indulging in a bit of film-making-as-therapy to mend their competitive and rocky relationship.

From the opening scene the irascibility of Haskell's nature is evident as he gets stuck into Mark, a trend which continues throughout the film. Many of the famous faces interviewed throughout the film also attest to Haskell's nature. Some, such as journalist Paula Yates admires that Haskell rants against the entire world. Others had great conflict with him, one being Milos Forman, who as director of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, fired Haskell. In his arrogance, Haskell claims that every film on which he worked he could have better directed.

The film is rich with Hollywood people speaking about Haskell: Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Julia Roberts and Sidney Poitier being just a few. Of especial note is fellow cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, with whom Haskell shared a close friendship and to whom Mark also felt very close.

Mark makes excellent use of old family photos to give a background to the Wexler history, starting with his immigrant grandfather, and moving on to how he and Haskell got into film. But Haskell is at pains to make it known that "what I do for a living is not me", and while the film is a wonderful overview of the man's career, it also gives intimate insights into the troubled father/son relationship. In many scenes both Haskell and Mark have a camera on each other, as if without this buffer zone they cannot communicate. There are a couple of wonderful and funny head-on-head conflicts between the two men, especially as regards technical issues, with Haskell telling Mark how to direct his own film!

Haskell directed about eight films, Medium Cool (1969) being best known for demonstrating his indie left-wing bent, while Mark in his time as a photo journalist was heavily involved with the Republican right. The fact that the two men are at opposite ends of the political spectrum also adds to the friction between them.

The film is not without moments of extreme poignancy, such as father and son visiting Marian, Haskell's ex-wife, now institutionalised with Alzheimer's, and no-one but a close family member could have elicited this sort of intimacy from his subject. It is perhaps a seminal moment in which we get a glimpse of the softer man behind the tough legend.

Tell Them Who You Are is not just one for film buffs, but for anyone interested in looking at the complex dynamics of fathers and sons and how rifts can be healed.




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