Sundance 2019 – Mike Wallace Is Here

That's a wrap, fellas

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Mike Wallace is Here
A still from Mike Wallace Is Here by Avi Belkin, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by CBS News

Back in the day (that day being the `80s and `90s) the words “Mike Wallace is Here” probably struck fear into the heart of many a volunteered surprise interviewee. Wallace basically invented the guerilla-style interview format, and this documentary is as timely as it is needed, with journalism under attack every day. The cyclical nature of life in general and news stories specifically are hilariously shown, with people being concerned about journalistic values vs. showbiz; lying politicians; and even this “new math” being taught in schools …in 1968.

Utilizing entertaining old footage from when he was more of a jack-of-all-trades on-air talent — either working on game shows or hawking products — “Wallace” introduces us to a man probably totally unfamiliar even to those who knew him from “60 Minutes,” his most famous outlet.

But captions might have been wise for such footage, as much of the audio is of poor quality: hampered by being recorded with antiquated techniques or captured during live shoots on remote locations. Additionally, onscreen lower thirds would have helped identify the various subjects of his numerous interviews, as I doubt many in the audience will recognize them all, or their significance. The small slices of interviews may make you want to watch them in full, though.

Still, such footage takes us to a different world, one where cigarettes are everywhere (cigarette smoke was even used as the background for the title sequence of his 1956 show Night Beat, a precursor to 60 Minutes), and Wallace’s brand of bulldog seems almost quaint by comparison to the bombast regularly seen on today’s news programs.

But to that modern bluster he never got to witness (he died in 2012), Wallace makes a great point: to not confuse anger and hostility with a dogged insistence to get to the facts. “Wallace” also address the intertwined and complicated relationship between advertisers and Networks, and the rise of tabloid journalism, even though the doc itself uses many of its typical trappings: stylized transitions, editing techniques, music beds, and pointed juxtaposition of shots. An interesting use of split screen shows Wallace observing Mike Wallace observing the reactions of people Mike Wallace is interviewing; a rather meta way of visually representing the cult of personality that so many journalistic icons of Wallace’s level attain.

But the doc also humanizes Wallace, as he takes on the tough questions regarding his own personal life, the tragic loss of his son, and his battle with insecurities and outright depression.

A movie (or a doc) is sometimes its ending, and this movie has a good one; it answers the question Why. Why make this doc, or why would anyone do Wallace’s job? I won’t spoil that ending by telling you the answer; just check out the film.

  • “Mike Wallace is Here”
  • TRT: 94 min
  • Drexler Films/Delirio Films
  • Director: Avi Belkin

See all of our Sundance Coverage here.