Tell Them Who You Are

"What I do for a living, which is making movies, is not me," Haskell Wexler lectures his exasperated middle-aged son Mark, a documentarian, even though movies like WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) and AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) made Haskell famous. A moment of silence for Leo Tolstoy, please: Mark's portrait of...read more

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"What I do for a living, which is making movies, is not me," Haskell Wexler lectures his exasperated middle-aged son Mark, a documentarian, even though movies like WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) and AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) made Haskell famous. A moment of silence for Leo Tolstoy, please: Mark's portrait of his father, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer and director, is one more bit of proof that Tolstoy was right on the nose about unhappy families. Despite their fractious relationship rooted in the uniquely unhappy Haskell-family dynamics, Mark managed to produce a creditable overview of his father's illustrious career and lifelong commitment to progressive social causes. But the film's real appeal is the morbidly fascinating spectacle of a grown man reduced to adolescent sulking and whining by his imperious father: It's flat-out enthralling, in the rubbernecking tradition of train wrecks and public nervous breakdowns. And kudos to Mark for not sugarcoating his own pettiness: The sequence in which he gives Haskell a framed photo of himself with George Bush (taken while Mark was making a documentary about Air Force One) is priceless. He could have framed a shot of himself with Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, but no — Mark chooses the president who will make his staunchly liberal father see red. Born in Chicago in 1926. Haskell Wexler was an uneasy child of privilege who both organized a workers' strike against his family's electronics factory and let his father invest in the small studio in Des Plaines, Ind., where Haskell hoped to make commercials and industrial films. The studio failed and Haskell went west, quickly becoming a sought-after cinematographer. He also developed a reputation for being difficult, and once he began directing his own documentary and semidocumentary films, found it hard to bite his tongue when shooting for another director whom he thought was doing it wrong — which was just about everyone. "I don't think there's a movie I've been on that I wasn't sure I could direct better," he admits, and not at all sheepishly. His own son is certainly no exception, and the scenes in which he tells the squirming Mark what he's doing wrong — pretty much everything — are hugely entertaining, if uncomfortably close to family therapy on film. The last word on Haskell Wexler's career hasn't been spoken, but it's hard to imagine there's much more to say about him as a bad dad.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: R
  • Review: "What I do for a living, which is making movies, is not me," Haskell Wexler lectures his exasperated middle-aged son Mark, a documentarian, even though movies like WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) and AMERICAN G… (more)

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