Haskell Wexler is perhaps best know for Medium Cool (1969), at least by me. I remember being impressed at the uniqueness of the approach in that hybrid. In Tell Them Who You Are, his son Mark attempts to discover who his father is, and in so doing repair the tenuous relationship they seem to have had. In a career that has spanned nearly 60 years as a cinematographer and documentarian, Wexler did his best work in the 60’s (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Thomas Crown Affair, and 70’s (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Coming Home). But he’s still working to this day.
A notoriously difficult cinematographer to work with, he was replaced on several films. Outspokenly political, and opinionated as to the craft, he got in trouble for believing strongly that there was a better way to shoot some of the films he worked on. Many of the people (actors, directors, other cinemaphotographers) whom his son Mark interviews for this doc obviuosly respect his father. They all have admiration for his enormous talent. It’s also obvious that (as someone said) that he could be a real pain in the ass.
He comes across as gruff and argumentative with his son, and the film seems to portray him a bad light initially. Towards the end it loosens up a bit. There is an especially tender and heartbreaking scene when Mark and he visit Mark’s mother in a nursing home. She is suffering with Alzheimer’s, and Haskell breaks down at the tragedy of this once fine artist trapped in the twilight. An interesting film on farther son relationships (especially when the father is rather famous). But also a documentary that would be of interest to students of the art.