You know that "Tell Them Who You Are" is going to be something fascinating with the first scene, where legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler leads the viewer around his equipment room. Off-camera, his son asks him to explain where they are and what they're looking at. Previously calm in discussing a piece of equipment in his hands, the elder Wexler turns around and verbally snaps his son's head off, explaining how not to do a documentary.
The interesting thing about the documentary is that it operates on two levels: on one hand, you get a lot of great insights and appreciation for Haskell Wexler's work from a wealth of stars and directors. On the other hand, you also get a movie about the son of a famous father trying to do the same thing and attempting to make a name for himself.
To make things more complicated, the elder Wexler is brilliant, but difficult to get along with. Calling him a character and a major piece-of-work (but in an amusingly grumpy way) is reasonable. There's few moments throughout the movie where Haskell isn't telling his son how to do things - and not in a traditionally caring, "lets work together to get this right" way, but an "are ya done yet?" way. The biggest example is a moment where, after Haskell calls his son in for an interview, the two get into a fierce and lengthy argument over how to set up a shot with Haskell talking and whether or not he'll be sitting in a room or outside against a sunset (form over function, in other words.)
The stars who offer their comments do boast some interesting stories, such as how Ron Howard was lent the equipment to make his first movie by Wexler. Friends like Conrad Hall (both the older and younger, who are also both cinematographers, as well) also provide their thoughts and additional backstory on Wexler's history. Milos Forman and Michael Douglas talk about what it was like to have to fire Wexler from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" when Forman became irritated that Wexler was going around voicing his irritation with the production. Wexler believed that the government had a role in his getting bumped. Yet, others also shared the opinion - "great cinematographer, but a pain to work with."
Politics are also a big angle of the story, as Haskell lets his son know that if he cuts his political discussions out of the film, he'll be sorry. The two have very varying views on politics, and that's just another brick in the wall between the two that, at least in part, gets taken down a bit over the course of the movie.
Overall, "Tell Them Who You Are" works on different levels and works exceptionally well on all of them. We get a story that many can familiarize with on some level on the relationship between fathers and sons, we get a tale of a Hollywood legend who passionately presses forward in his professional and personal life to do things his way and finally, we get a very good overview of an incredible career via clips, images and the thoughts of those who've worked with Haskell Wexler. A great film.
VIDEO: Thinkfilm presents "Tell Them Who You Are" in the film's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The presentation is of very fine quality, as sharpness and detail are mostly first-rate, with the understandable exception of some archive footage and low-light scenes.
The presentation does show a trace or two of pixelation, but no edge enhancement or other concerns (aside from some wear on the archive footage) were spotted. Colors remained bright and vivid, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The 2.0 audio is "documentary style", with crisp, clear dialogue (aside from one screw-up with the audio that's explained in the film.)
EXTRAS: There is a piece showing Haskell watching his son's movie in the editing room, and the moment after the film ends where Haskell tells Mark how much he enjoyed the movie is incredibly emotional. We also get additional celeb interviews (Martin Sheen, Michael Douglas, Ron Howard, Jane Fonda, Billy Crystal, Sidney Potier, Bill Butler, Conrad L. Hall and Conrad W. Hall), bios for Mark and Haskell Wexler and finally, a trailer gallery for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Tell Them Who You Are" is one of the year's best films. It provides a remarkable look at a father and son trying to connect after years of issues, as well as a look at a remarkable career and a son trying to start his own career in his father's shadow. Even at 95 minutes, it fits all of these aspects and more without shortchanging any of them. A very enjoyable, often touching and occasionally funny documentary. Thinkfilm provides a DVD with fine audio/video quality, but less supplements than I'd like to have seen. Still, very highly recommended.
The Film A