Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mike Wallace is Here: A Review (Review #1310)


The title to the documentary Mike Wallace is Here comes from an oft-told tale of how those four words would inspire terror into anyone caught in Wallace's reportage cross-hairs. The documentary primarily covers his work and how it occasionally collided with his life. While not a portrait of the man behind the microphone, Mike Wallace is Here does well in showing his style of aggressive investigative reporting and interviewing went from rebellious to Establishment to clones.

Using hundreds of hours of archival footage from the entirety of Wallace's career, director Avi Belkin pieces how Mike Wallace wandered around looking for something both in radio and television. Back then, broadcasters worked both in serious and light aspects, so Wallace would give news reports and voice The Green Hornet. Once he went to television, Wallace would also serve as TV game show host, product pitchman and even actor.

It wasn't until he hosted an interview show, Night Beat, in 1956 that the Mike Wallace method of interview fully formed. Before then, most television interviews were very surface-level, almost like a nice chat but Wallace wanted something akin to a police investigation.

Both his background as pitchman and lack of background as a newspaper journalist in the Murrow or Cronkite manner made him a bit of the odd-man-out at CBS, until 60 Minutes came along. Once there, he found his niche, though it was not until Watergate that people started watching the show. From there, he would look at scam artists and movie stars with equal jaded eye, though Wallace never liked having that eye placed on him. As time wore on, Wallace found himself in the hot seat a few times, until he too faded from the scene.

Image result for mike wallace is hereMike Wallace is Here covers a great deal about Wallace the Reporter, a man who seemed to have a lifelong quest to prove something to himself and others. There are mentions of his private life: the death of his son Peter, at least one failed marriage, but by and large the documentary doesn't go into who he was off-camera unless it is from an interview he gave.

Instead, Mike Wallace is Here is more a chronicle of a man who had some internal struggles about himself (he said he had a perfect face for radio) and from there found his way into being a tough but fair genuine reporter. The closest we get to a revelation about the man as a person is when he says that Peter's death shifted his goals to be a straight-up journalist versus some kind of television vagabond. He also does touch on his struggle with depression and a suicide attempt coming on the heels of the lawsuit filed against him and CBS by General William Westmoreland.

Some footage is fascinating, such as his interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose call to have the Egyptian people remove their President more than like led to President Anwar Sadat's assassination. There's also a clip of an interview with then-real estate mogul Donald Trump, who said he wouldn't get involved in politics.

We also see that Wallace, for all his bluntness when it came to others, bristled at the notion that anyone would be blunt with him. Selections from one particular interview show how irritated Wallace got when asked about his personal life. Belkin cross-edits this particular interview of Wallace dismissing questions about his marriages with that of Wallace asking Larry King about his myriad of wives.

Could Mike Wallace dish it out but not take it?

While Mike Wallace is Here does not give us much about his own life it does give us a fascinating document about his professional life: the interviews, the struggles, the methods of how he got what he was after. Perhaps this is how he would have liked it.


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