MIKE WALLACE IS HERE
MIKE WALLACE IS HERE
Director: Avi Belkin
Runtime: 90 minutes
Synopsis: For over half a century, 60 Minutes’ fearsome newsman Mike Wallace went head-to-head with the world’s most influential figures. Relying exclusively on archival footage, the film interrogates the interrogator, tracking Mike’s celebrated career and troubled personal life while unpacking how broadcast journalism evolved to today’s precarious tipping point.
Director Avi Belkin, from Tel Aviv, works in documentary and fiction as a director, writer, editor, and producer. Mike Wallace Is Here is his debut English-language feature.
It relies exclusively on archival footage, behind-the-scenes clips and old interviews (including a few occasions when Wallace is the one in the hot seat) to tell its story.
The film offers an unflinching look at the legendary reporter, who interrogated the twentieth century’s biggest figures in his over fifty years on air, with his aggressive reporting style and showmanship that redefined what America came to expect from broadcasters. Unearthing decades of never-before-seen footage from the 60 Minutes vault, the film explores what drove and plagued Wallace, whose illustrious career was entwined with the evolution of journalism itself.
Belkin’s aim is to create a dialogue with his subject, who died in 2012 at the age of 93. By collecting every instance where Wallace himself was interviewed, and coupling his answers with his interrogations of others, Belkin has created a framing dialectic for the film inspired by Wallace’s own trademark style. “This film interviews Mike while he’s interviewing others,” says Belkin, who began researching the film in 2016. “We got a ‘Mike Wallace interview’ using Mike’s own tools.”
“You ask tough questions to get behind the facade, to understand what’s really going on behind the scenes…Interviews are a way of learning about others, and ourselves through others.” (Mike Wallace) For over fifty years, Mike Wallace epitomised the journalist-interviewer as tough-talking truth-seeker, first in the 1950s on Night Beat (swiftly renamed The Mike Wallace Interview), then as part of the CBS News team, and finally as the cornerstone reporter of television’s seminal news-magazine 60 Minutes.
In raw and previously untouched footage from archives across the country, Wallace is illuminated through the journalistic sparring matches that made him famous. He corners, argues with, cajoles, and challenges everyone from Vladimir Putin, Malcolm X, Richard Nixon, and Barbra Streisand, to an ’80s-era Donald Trump and the Ayatollah Khomeini, to name a few. Meanwhile, in interviews Wallace gave to his 60 Minutes colleagues and others, we see Wallace respond to the challenges and criticisms he faced in his own life.
While the film fails to address its subject’s reporting on LGBTQ issues, the piece does cover a huge swathe of the life and work of a man who lived to be 93 and didn’t retire until age 88. One of the most entertaining reveals finds Wallace chatting with a young Donald Trump, in his late 30s, who explicitly denies political ambitions.
The film shows how Wallace and the turmoil of 1968 (the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy) inspired the creation of 60 Minutes, which would go on to perform investigative surgery on President Richard M. Nixon and the men of the Watergate scandal. It also humanizes its subject with a sequence where he discovers the body of his youngest son, Peter.
There are major ironies in the story of the man born Myron Leon Wallace. Myron developed a severe case of acne, and for many years the ambitious young man felt his was a face fit only for radio. We see snapshots of his relationships with women, from legendary star Bette Davis in her 80s, who has her share of surly regrets, to a combative Barbra Streisand (“Mike, you’re a son-of-a-bitch”). This documentary reveals him to have been an emotionally complicated man who at times suffered from crippling depression that led him to the brink of suicide. Wallace later made a Public Service Announcement urging viewers to seek professional help for mental health issues.
At a time when journalism in America and elsewhere is so hotly debated and it seems like the hard-hitting question is fighting for its right to be asked, Mike Wallace Is Here turns the tough question loose on its inventor to understand how we got here and what’s really at stake.
“Take a look at the history of any nation which has lost its freedoms, and you’ll find that the men who grabbed the power also had to crush the free press.” (Mike Wallace)
As solidly compelling as its subject’s best reporting, Mike Wallace Is Here is both a worthy tribute to one man, and an engrossing look at the changing landscape of modern news.
Streaming on: Apple TV; Amazon; Curzon Home Cinema; iTunes; Sky; Virginmedia
Images courtesy of : Dogwoof