clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Film review: Skills are on display in 'Tell Them'

Cinematographer Haskell Wexler won Oscars in 1966 and 1976.
Cinematographer Haskell Wexler won Oscars in 1966 and 1976.

TELL THEM WHO YOU ARE — *** — Documentary feature about Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler; rated R (profanity, violence, brief drugs, brief sex, brief partial nudity, racial epithets, vulgarity.

The best moments in "Tell Them Who You Are" come when Haskell Wexler tries to tell his son Mark how he should be making this movie.

Those moments not only demonstrate that the skills of the now 80-something cinematographer haven't waned, but they also show the sometimes strained relationship between the older and younger Wexlers.

Haskell Wexler won Academy Awards in 1966 for his work as a cinematographer on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and in 1976 for "Bound for Glory." His handheld camera work on 1967's "In the Heat of the Night" predated Steadicam and the current overused "shaky-cam" by decades.

Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, Haskell Wexler also directed a handful of movies, including the 1969 underground film "Medium Cool."

But as this rewarding documentary notes, Wexler is also the prototypical "Hollywood Liberal" (a lengthy section toward the end of the film details his longtime friendship with Jane Fonda), and an unrepentant womanizer (though one of his three marriages did produce Mark, a filmmaker in his own right).

"Tell Them Who You Are" gets off track a few times, probably because of the sheer number of famous names and faces that his father is proud to call friends — George Lucas, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen and John Sayles all sing his praises.

At times, Haskell's constant badgering of Mark obviously rankles him, which results in a couple of filmmaking stumbles — a section that tries to compare the relationship of the two Wexlers with that of the late Conrad L. Hall and his son Conrad W. Hall, doesn't come off nearly as well as it should. On the other hand, a brief scene examining Haskell's relationship with his own father is well done.

The subject is a fascinating one, and the film is worth watching just to see how impressive Wexler's career has been.

"Tell Them Who You Are" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity, violence (including footage of some riot suppression and civil disobedience), brief drug content (references and use of tear gas), brief simulated sex and some brief partial nudity (in a film clip from "Coming Home"), and use of a few racial epithets and vulgar slang terms. Running time: 94 minutes.