A young man sees someone he would like to meet, but he is shy and unsure of how to approach him. His father pushes him, saying, “Tell them who you are.” What he means is, “Tell them you’re my son.”
The father, two-time Oscar winner for cinematography, leftist political activist and high-maintenance pain in the neck Haskell Wexler.Haskell Wexler, knows that his name is will open doors for his son. The son, Mark Wexler, knows that when you use someone else’s name to open doors, even your father’s, it doesn’t count. He grew up to make this movie about his father as a way of telling us who he is.
For starters, he is not his father, the genius cinematographer who thinks he could have done a better job than any of the directors he ever worked with — including this one. From the very first moment, when Mark asks his father to tell the audience where he is, Haskell tells him he doesn’t need to, and he spends the rest of the movie arguing with his son about how the shots should be set up, what the movie should include, whether he will sign the release and allow the movie to be made at all, and just about everything else, especially politics.
I am very taken with the growing movies-as-therapy genre of “working out my issues with Dad” documentaries. Part history, part biography, part appreciation, and all therapy, it is a funny, wrenching, profound, and deeply moving film, reminiscient of the brilliant My Architect. This time, the subject of the film is very much alive, and his efforts to direct the movie and his son provide some of the film’s most meaningful moments.
Parents should know that this movie has extremely strong language and some sexual images and some references to sexual situations, including adultery. Some viewers may also be disturbed by the tense family scenes and a sad scene of illness.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Mark and his father are proudest of about each other. How did making the film change their relationship? Why did Mark decide to include the scene with his mother?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other worthy films in this category, including My Architect, and Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me, Tessa Blake’s 1998 documentary about her multi-married Texas millionaire father, whose relationships with his secretaries lasted longer than any of his marriages (and whose wives had even more cordial relationships with each other than their still-friendly relationships with him). Two fine movies with related themes are Tarnation, Jonathan Couette’s movie about his mentally ill mother, and Martha and Ethel, Jyll Johnstone’s film about two nannies who played a larger role in the lives of the film-makers than their parents did.