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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tell Them Who You Are (2004)

Tell Them Who You Are is a documentary by Mark Wexler, son of famous cinematographer Haskell Wexler about his father and his father's life. More to the point early on it's made clear that the film isn't about his father's body of work but about Haskell as a father. Admittedly, when I put the film on I was hoping for a look back at the elder Wexler's body of work. This isn't what I got. That's okay, I still feel like I got something out of this.
I get this film, a great deal. I understand the father/son dynamics at work. Haskell is a father who probably didn't plan fatherhood but now in his 80s he's trying to ensure his legacy. He seems full of regret, full of anger. I get this, my dad and I relate a lot like this. Haskell was a flaming die hard liberal who talked politics first thing in the morning and wondered why his kid ended up a conservative. My dad and I are the same way, just opposites. My dad is very conservative and pushed his politics all the time, and still wonders how I turned out so liberal. Men of a certain age and with a certain upbringing sometimes live to regret their missteps in life. Men like my dad, who weren't raised to show their emotions, and don't know how to relax in life, often end up full of regrets, full of worry, afraid they weren't good enough parents or employees. Haskell is one of those men. He rebelled against everything, had such high expectations for his kids and himself and when things didn't end up the way he wanted it left him bitter. It's sad to see.
The documentary is a study of him as a father, with interviews with famous people to accompany the footage.
It's a little seen inside peek into a life of someone somewhat famous. It's touching and heartbreaking because there is nothing sadder than man full of regret. It's also touching because there is footage of him with his ex wife who has Alzheimer's. The footage with the stars (Julia Roberts in a lovely home, looking really normal, Jane Fonda, Conrad Hall) is interesting but not particularly anything new.
All in all, it's a neat study of a father and son. Not terribly insightful, but not so bad either.


  1. I am Jeff Wexler, the first son of the famous Haskell Wexler, and I have to say that so many of the things portrayed in my brother's movie are pure fiction. So many of the things that my brother felt were repressive or represented neglect were the same things that I experienced in our father --- but I never considered them negative! Haskell is NOT trying to polish up his legacy as a father --- he has always been a wonderful father, committed to the family as much as to any of the "causes" he has fought for. "Tell Them Who You Are" is much more a movie about Mark than about Haskell, and it isn't a pretty picture.

  2. Wow. Thank you Jeff for responding, I appreciate the readership. I had no idea anyone was reading this. Thank you.
    Well, I had no idea. Parent/kids relationships are tricky and convoluted to say the least. It's good to hear you have a good relationship with your dad. That said, I think every child in a family has a vastly different relationship with their parents than their siblings. It's to be expected, kids and parents both grow over their lifetimes, it's natural that parents change their parenting styles and kids each respond differently. That's why each family is so unique. I think the documentary is best watched with the idea in mind that yes, it's Mark's film about Mark's relationship only with his dad. It doesn't tell you how Haskell feels, or what he thinks of his role as parent, or even what Haskell's other children feel. It's one son's view, that's it, no more, no less.
    And, I don't take everything I watch in movies or documentaries as gospel, just mainly food for thought. Your dad reminded me of some men I know of a certain age who start to ponder their lives and contributions to society.
    Thanks for commenting Jeff, I appreciate it.