Thursday, August 22, 2019

Mike Wallace (The Movie)

I haven't watched 60 Minutes in years, but there was a time when I watched the show, which debuted in September 1968 when I was 20, fairly faithfully. For almost almost four decades from that program;s beginning, Mike Wallace (1918-2012) was one of its regular correspondents. Mike Wallace Is Here, a documentary film directed by Avi Belkin, chronicles his TV career almost completely out of archival footage, portraying him largely as he portrayed himself.

So we see footage from his early, pre-CBS career as an entertainer in 1950s TV and his first opportunity to find his vocation as an interviewer on Night Beat in 1956.

But it was his CBS work and, above all, his 60 Minutes interviews that defined him for a generation of news-watchers - even as his image and voice defined his distinctive style of journalism. Even if one doesn't care that much about Mike Wallace personally, his interviews with the great and the good - and the bad and the very bad - made their mark in their time and are well worth revisiting in this wonderful movie, which highlights not only the high points of his investigative journalism (Vietnam, Watergate, tobacco) but his interpersonal interactions with everyone from Bette Davis to Barbara Streisand to Oriana Fallaci to Ayatollah Khomeini to General Westmorland to a young Donald Trump to Bill O'Reilly (the last two perhaps a look ahead into the world Wallace's style inadvertently pointed ahead to).

We learn about the death of his 19-year old son Peter in a 1962 hiking accident in Greece, but not too much more about his private life until late in the film when he suddenly becomes frank and personal about his struggle with depression and his reflections on aging. As I experience the diminishments of age and look ahead uncertainly to the ambiguities of life no longer defined by one's work, I found that particular part of the film especially engaging.

As he reveals more about himself, Wallace becomes if not more likable at least somewhat sympathetic a character, which makes this movie much more than just another nostalgic journey down memory lane.

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