Monday, July 7, 2008
An overtly smug session of film festival psychotherapy done on the cheap, Tell Them Who You Are is nominally Mark Wexler's shot-on-video portrait of his father, the cinematographer and filmmaker Haskell Wexler. More to the point, it is a determined effort to paint the old man as a remote, hopelessly irascible, leftist prick. Forget the brilliant career and aversion to compromise, the lifelong committment to causes larger than winning an Academy Award. Mark has issues, folks, and the political divide between father and son . . . he seems to think sprawling at the feet of George W. Bush on Air Force One itself represents an achievement of some weight . . . is only the beginning of where he wants to drag us. For despite the wealth of detail and testimony spread throughout, Tell Them Who You Are isn't really about Haskell Wexler or what he has accomplished. It's about family relationships, unresolved issues, generational gulfstreams; and nary a moment goes by when the viewer isn't confronted by the filmmaker's mewling resolve to offer us something more 'meaningful' than the study of a man whose extraordinary eye helped to reshape American cinema. With its unconscionably patronizing, resentful tone it bears a striking resemblence to that other navel-gazing landmark in the annals of filial ambush, Aiyana Elliott's The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (2000) but without the relief of that film's concomitant interest in its subject as an artist. While Haskell Wexler's true achievement and often implacable will would inspire any halfway decent documentarian to dig into the marrow of the man (or die trying), Mark Wexler simply packs up the car and drives it headlong into Oprah country, where all mediocrities go to waste their time (and ours) without stopping for gas.