Mike Wallace Is Here

 

starstarstarstarhalf

 


A fine biopic that is equally appealing for the issues it raises.

 
Mike Wallace Is Here

 

This splendidly stimulating documentary by Avi Belkin is highly unusual in consisting entirely of archive material. Such a piece could well have virtues, but you would not usually expect it to feel of the moment and possessed of a tone that made it vivid and alive. However, that is what Belkin achieves with this study of the life and career of Mike Wallace. For American viewers he is doubtless covering familiar ground, but I must confess that I approached this film without any awareness of the man who, first on radio and then in television, became the most provocative and famous of interviewers in the U.S.A. in a career that covered rather more than five decades.

 

Wallace died in 2012 but Belkin's film shuffles extracts taken from many interviews of Wallace over the years as well as from the shows in which he was the man who asked the questions. That those questions were frequently blunt and confrontational was central to the style for which he became famous. Having made his mark in this manner on the radio show Night Beat, he moved into television to establish The Mike Wallace Show and then reached his zenith on CBS in 60 Minutes. That started in 1968 and was still going strong with him up to forty years later having weathered a legal suit brought against Wallace and CBS in 1982 by General William Westmoreland. Ultimately terms were agreed and the general withdrew his action, but the experience led Wallace into periods of mental depression.

 

Cunningly edited by Billy McMillin, Mike Wallace Is Here brilliantly ignores the traditional chronological approach of the biopic to blend the career history with footage taken at various times in which Wallace is himself the interviewee and often finds him facing questioning of the kind that he had applied to others. Not only is the subject of his depression brought up leading eventually to an admission of a suicide attempt but also the death of a son at the age of nineteen and his inadequacies as a husband (he married four times but was really as he admits married to his job). Meanwhile, for film fans the clips we see of him interviewing the likes of Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand and Kirk Douglas will have their own fascination, but political interviews of his had an extra importance as at the time of Watergate and not least in a key encounter he had with Ayatollah Khomeini. The latter leads Mike Wallace Is Here into detailed discussion of how appropriate intrusive questioning is in this context, Wallace's defence being that, in spite of having been seen by some as turning journalism into showbiz, his aim was always the pursuit of truth. And that is where this film using old footage addresses us so directly. At times Wallace's approach has been out of fashion and seen as inappropriate, but in our own age when presidents and politicians seek to hide important facts and trade in accusations of fake news the need for uncompromising journalists has never been greater. To some extent the liveliness which is a mark of this film comes from its speed and that is partly attained by frequently not taking the time to identify interviewees save in the end credits and that can be irritating. But this is a minor failing in an invigorating work that speaks to us now with special force.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  archive footage of Mike Wallace and others including Bill O'Reilly, Arthur Miller, Salvador Dali, Bette Davis, Shirley MacLaine, Ayatollah Khomeini, Larry King, Kirk Douglas, Oprah Winfrey, Morley Safer, Barbra Streisand, Oriana Fallaci and Jeffrey Wigand.

 

Dir Avi Belkin, Pro Rafael Marmor, Peggy Drexler, John Battsek, Avi Belkin and Chris Leggett, Ed Billy McMillin, Music John Piscitello.

 

Drexler Films/Delirio Films/Passion Pictures-Dogwoof.
91 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 29 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.