Friday, April 22, 2005

Life with Father(s)

I am very taken with the growing movies-as-therapy genre of "working out my issues with Dad" documentaries. Tonight at the Washington D.C. Film Festival I saw Tell Them Who You Are, Mark Wexler's movie about his father, Oscar-winning cinematographer, leftist political activist and high-maintenance pain in the neck Haskell Wexler. Part history, part biography, part appreciation, and all therapy, it is a funny, wrenching, profound, and deeply moving film. It's reminiscient of the brilliant My Architect: A Son's Journey, but 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. While the title refers to advice the elder Wexler gave his son about approaching someone -- his idea of who Mark was meant "Haskell Wexler's son" -- ultimately, it resonates more meaningfully as Mark uses the film about his father to truly tell us -- and himself -- who he is.

Other worthy films in this category include 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 & Ethel, Jyll Johnstone's film about two nannies who played a larger role in the lives of the film-makers than their parents.


JMR said...

Nice write-up, Nell! Do you know, by the way, whether "Tarnation" is out on DVD? I missed it in theaters and would love to look at it.

By the way, glad to find this second outlet for you on the web. :)

Nell Minow said...

Thanks, Jeff, and hi to Xan! Tarnation will be out on DVD May 17. I'd love to hear what you think of it.