Tell Them Who You Are - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Tell Them Who You Are Reviews

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Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
February 22, 2013
For the record, I believe that family members should never be involved in recording the life stories of loved ones due to the combination of distance and past closeness which can lead to a skewed perspective and usually involves at least one person with an axe to grind or deep-seated issues. Case in point with the latter is the documentary "Tell Them Who You Are" wherein Mark Wexler attempts to document the career of his father, Haskell, the famed cinematographer. That's the case until Haskell hijacks the proceedings to make it more about him as a person, leaving whatever footage in which would normally be cut and vice versa, as Mark forgets that the first rule of the documentarian is to stay behind the camera as much as humanly possible. Admittedly, there is some great stuff here about "Medium Cool," with a neat anecdote about "Coming Home." And some of Haskell's lesser known movies like "Latino" and "Introduction to the Enemy" definitely sound intriguing.

But getting back to those issues, the documentary seeks to portray Haskell as irascible and whose left wing politics which did not stop him from working with Elia Kazan stopped him from accomplishing much more in a career full of accomplishments.(At the age of 87, apparently he is still working.) Personally, any discussion of paternal issues by the participants only serve to make me feel well-adjusted which is quite the accomplishment. Look, I am not saying we should venerate all artists or gloss over their shortcomings. It's just that I don't care.
½ January 27, 2008
Mark Wexler, a capital C conservative photojournalist, puts his camera on his famous dad, cinematographer extraordinaire Haskell Wexler, then 83 years old, in an attempt to come to terms with him and find out how love and mutual respect can blossom from fractious differences. It's a stunning piece of personal documentation--funny and unforgettable.
½ August 10, 2008
Although this is supposedly a documentary about the relationship between cinematographer/filmmaker Haskell Wexler and his son Mark, it's pretty much a cheap therapy session for the son, allowing him to whine for 90 minutes about what a bad father his dad is/was, complete with selectively edited scenes of Dad being a dick. Roll end credits.

The irony is that Mark's central message seems to be that he finds it difficult to live in the shadow of his famous father. So he responds by making a documentary (just like his dad might do) and interviewing a bunch of famous people (George Lucas, Dennis Hopper, etc.) in the process... people he surely wouldn't have had access to if not for his father.

The documentary itself is pretty uninspired, but I enjoyed the inclusion of footage from the senior Wexler's work, especially his lesser seen films.
July 21, 2008
The unconventional style both helps and hurts the film. At times it allows the younger Wexler to provide an intimate and engaging look at his father, at other times it simply makes him look like he has an axe to grind. Haskell Wexler is a brilliant cinematographer, but a complex and controlling individual, and thus makes a very interesting subject for a documentary. One only wishes his son had perhaps spent a bit more time separating emotion from analysis.
vh
½ June 6, 2005
I got back from India over two weeks ago but since then I've pretty much stopped reading and stopped writing and all but stopped seeing movies. What have I been doing instead, you might ask. Well. Mostly sleeping a lot. It's turning out to be a very time-consuming hobby.

So anyway. I saw this movie almost two weeks ago and I've taken a lot of naps since then so the details are a little foggy. It's a documentary about a famous cinematographer named Haskell Wexler, which might not have been that interesting except that it was made by his son, Mark. And even that might not have been particularly interesting except that Haskell and Mark have a really lousy relationship. And strained relationships played out in front of the camera almost always make for interesting viewing. They form almost the entire basis for reality TV, for crying out loud. Though I suppose eating live insects is right up there too.

Haskell Wexler is a mean old liberal activist tough guy who still works out hard in the gym at age 82. When fully dressed, he appears to still have the lithe, athletic body of a young man, but when he takes off his shirt, we see that there's actually a saggy-skinned, mole-covered old man living underneath. But even though his body may be turning on him, his spirit is still hard as nails. Despite his age, he's still capable of dominating and intimidating his soft, feckless son, Mark. (Ever since I learned the word "feckless", I can't seem to get enough of it.)

Mark is the complete opposite of Haskell. He's a staunch conservative who's quite proud of a documentary he made on Air Force One with George W. Bush. Much to Haskell's amusement, he's also dreadfully afraid that accompanying his left-wing father to a radical political gathering might mess up his prized government clearance and jeopardize his future projects. What a Caspar the friendly Milquetoast.

Though I found Mark to be a whining weenie of a man, I was still bothered by Haskell's total contempt for him. Though I generally respected Haskell for his strong beliefs and outspokenness, his insensitivity towards Mark often seemed like bullying. He criticized Mark's filmmaking techniques in almost every scene and even refused to sign the waiver to allow the movie to be released until after production was completed and he was able to view the finished product himself.

In one difficult-to-watch scene, a father-son power struggle ensues in a San Francisco hotel room following a peace rally. Haskell calls Mark into his room to film what he considers to be an important post-rally thought which he's just formulated. Mark asks Haskell to move out to the balcony so he can film the scene in front of the sunset. Haskell refuses, saying the content of his speech is more important than the pretty backdrop. Mark asks him to move anyway. Voices keep getting louder and more insistent and eventually Mark's pathetic pleading and Haskell's adamant refusal became so unpleasant that I had to cover my face to try to block out the fighting until they stopped. And after all that, we never do get to see what Haskell's big thought was.

One cool thing about this movie for me is that it has a clip of Haskell standing outside of the Music Box theater which is where I watched the movie. But to make things even freakier, a later scene shows Haskell speaking to a crowd while standing on the stage of the Music Box theater where the image of him standing on the stage of the Music Box theater was currently being projected on the screen that I was watching. Whoa. Recursive.

I found this to be a very interesting movie, albeit a little uncomfortable to watch at times. Haskell Wexler is a worthy documentary subject in his own right, but for me, the messed up dynamics of the filial relationship is the real draw. It's somewhat reassuring to know that not everyone else in the world "grew up Brady".
Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
February 22, 2013
For the record, I believe that family members should never be involved in recording the life stories of loved ones due to the combination of distance and past closeness which can lead to a skewed perspective and usually involves at least one person with an axe to grind or deep-seated issues. Case in point with the latter is the documentary "Tell Them Who You Are" wherein Mark Wexler attempts to document the career of his father, Haskell, the famed cinematographer. That's the case until Haskell hijacks the proceedings to make it more about him as a person, leaving whatever footage in which would normally be cut and vice versa, as Mark forgets that the first rule of the documentarian is to stay behind the camera as much as humanly possible. Admittedly, there is some great stuff here about "Medium Cool," with a neat anecdote about "Coming Home." And some of Haskell's lesser known movies like "Latino" and "Introduction to the Enemy" definitely sound intriguing.

But getting back to those issues, the documentary seeks to portray Haskell as irascible and whose left wing politics which did not stop him from working with Elia Kazan stopped him from accomplishing much more in a career full of accomplishments.(At the age of 87, apparently he is still working.) Personally, any discussion of paternal issues by the participants only serve to make me feel well-adjusted which is quite the accomplishment. Look, I am not saying we should venerate all artists or gloss over their shortcomings. It's just that I don't care.
½ December 22, 2011
Fascinating (and unconventional for the subject matter) but hardly the best-made doc.
June 28, 2011
Captivating, emotional, and even-handed profile of one of the great film artists of the last 50 years.
½ June 26, 2011
One man's investigation into his (famous) father. Haskell Wexler is opinionated and uncompromising, mostly coming off as wanting to direct son Mark's documentary. He's very concerned with image and posterity and exhibits a strong sense of the paranoid. On the other hand, the movie doesn't really look that good, and most of his ideas about how the son should shoot are better than what happens. Mark spends too much time on himself and both desperately wants his father's approval and argues with him constantly. Even a late emotional scene can't undo the overall blandness of the entire film.
½ January 27, 2008
Mark Wexler, a capital C conservative photojournalist, puts his camera on his famous dad, cinematographer extraordinaire Haskell Wexler, then 83 years old, in an attempt to come to terms with him and find out how love and mutual respect can blossom from fractious differences. It's a stunning piece of personal documentation--funny and unforgettable.
½ August 11, 2010
(Watched Thu 26 Apr 2007)
½ November 30, 2009
Interesting documentary of cinematographer Haskell Wexler by his son Mark. Wexler is famous for his docudrama MEDIUM COOL shot during the riots in 1968 Chicago. He worked on some important movies with some of the most influential stars and filmmakers of his time. Now in his 80s, Wexler demonstrates that a good diet and exercise can prolong a healthy life.

We learn through the course of the movie that Haskell grew up ultra rich and had every prerogative of an upper class upbringing so he would naturally become a radical in the 1960s. He explains that he rebelled against the privilege and went a different way politically from his father, but in reality he never stopped living like a blue blood. And the way he treats people with nonchalant disdain belies that "power to the people" rhetoric that is his patter through most of the film. Politics for Haskell seem to be a inner fight between who he is and who he wants to be. Haskel's son has no such struggles and the father and son joke about how Mark is a crazy right-winger.

An educational and entertaining documentary.
November 22, 2007
Incredible film not on its technical merits, but in spite of them. This is a unique portrait of a son making a project searching for who is father really is and having to venture into the one area his father is a legend in. Seeing the somewhat flawed and stubborn relationship between father and son gives this doc legs. The entire film is setup as intimate training where one of cinema's most celebrated cameramen opens himself up to teach his son how to make the story he wants to make. Watching Haskell interview while filming his son filming him is fitting for a man that has seen life through a viewfinder.

Though I did find some of the technical miscues distracting at times, when you give the son freedom to tell his own story, a greater point is made about Mark's relationship with his father and whom his father has labeled as his surrogate father, famed-cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall.

This is a fitting tribute to a strained Hollywood relationship with an individual who is getting the lens turned on him. There are interesting relationships that develop between not only father and son, but documentarian and subject, and film maker and star. The history of Haskell Wexler and his famous friends only adds to the complexity of a relatively novice film maker, Mark S. Wexler, who is willing to fail at making a documentary so he can become closer to his aging father. There is beauty in the technical failures of the film, knowing Mark's motives.

If you liked this, also watch Nathaniel Kahn's "My Architect", a portrait of a son trying to find out about his dead, famous architect father, Louis B. Kahn.
October 26, 2008
wow what a movie i have just seen this movie 4 the 1st time n think that this is a cracking piece of documentary movie making because its really enjoyable as anything....this has got a really good cast of actors/actressess throughout this movie...i think that the director of this Documentary movie had done a really good job of directing this movie because its really powerful movie as welln u never know what 2 expect thorughout this movie because the director of this Documentary movie keeps you on the edge's of your seats throguhout this movie n its a good relationship between cinematographer/filmmaker Haskell Wexler and his son Mark
½ August 10, 2008
Although this is supposedly a documentary about the relationship between cinematographer/filmmaker Haskell Wexler and his son Mark, it's pretty much a cheap therapy session for the son, allowing him to whine for 90 minutes about what a bad father his dad is/was, complete with selectively edited scenes of Dad being a dick. Roll end credits.

The irony is that Mark's central message seems to be that he finds it difficult to live in the shadow of his famous father. So he responds by making a documentary (just like his dad might do) and interviewing a bunch of famous people (George Lucas, Dennis Hopper, etc.) in the process... people he surely wouldn't have had access to if not for his father.

The documentary itself is pretty uninspired, but I enjoyed the inclusion of footage from the senior Wexler's work, especially his lesser seen films.
August 6, 2008
This film "is" interesting, but it's also standoffish. Haskell Wexler has some interesting bits about him, but it's hard to care about him or his son Mark, who sometimes comes across like a giddy fool. I guess I just can't relate to that family scenario. And, I think, there was too much father-son philosophy about what it means to be in the shot. I think that got boring real fast. Watch Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One if you want the philosophy of film put out in an interesting way.
July 21, 2008
The unconventional style both helps and hurts the film. At times it allows the younger Wexler to provide an intimate and engaging look at his father, at other times it simply makes him look like he has an axe to grind. Haskell Wexler is a brilliant cinematographer, but a complex and controlling individual, and thus makes a very interesting subject for a documentary. One only wishes his son had perhaps spent a bit more time separating emotion from analysis.
April 8, 2008
Initially frustrating in structure and direction. However it becomes clear this is what it is to know or understand Haskell Wexler. By the end of the doco I felt touched and I felt the realness of Mark's sheer frustration at Haskell and his controlling nature and Mark's constant desire to find a warmer side to his father. Definitely worth viewing if you have patience to see it through. honest and real, even to the point that he has to film half the doco with Haskell with a camera in front of his face!
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