Mike Wallace Is Here traces the history of television news
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Beyond the history of the legendary journalist’s career, that is the biggest takeaway from Mike Wallace Is Here. Brilliantly assembled and edited together entirely from what must be thousands of hours of television footage, the resulting film is not only Wallace’s story, but the story of television journalism as a whole. Slick and engaging, the documentary offers a lot to think about, even if it doesn’t always have the answers.
The film opens with a clip from a contentious interview Mike Wallace did with Bill O'Reilly in the heyday of his Fox News dominance. During the interview, Wallace asserts that O’Reilly is an op-ed writer wrapped in the self-righteousness of a journalist. For his part, O’Reilly calls him a dinosaur and points to Wallace as a pioneer who allowed for O’Reilly to exist in the first place.
In tracing Mike Wallace’s career from television entertainer/spokesman to interviewer and eventually journalist, we also follow the evolution of television from its early days to the recent past. And in the journey of how news is shared via television, one thing that sticks out is how–compared to print media–the journalist is literally on camera. Their personality is one to be trusted as a source of news. It works effectively for Wallace, who asks questions and presses his interview subjects down uncomfortable paths. Sitting here in 2019, it feels easy to draw a line from Wallace to O’Reilly, even if the line is a jagged one.
The other major joy is the use of so many Wallace interviews, from Johnny Carson to Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump to Salvador Dali. It’s a hit parade of the late 20th century, with some figures, like Larry King or Oprah Winfrey, not often seen on the interviewee side of things. Director Avi Belkin often employs television’s multi-camera shooting style to format the footage of Wallace and his subjects in splitscreen, which makes these interviews even more immersive than they would have been originally on television since we get to see both people at the same time.
Famous subjects aside, Mike Wallace Is Here also manages to be a biodoc about its titular man. At its most successful, the film draws a line from his childhood insecurities, to the bouts of crippling depression Wallace experienced at the height of his success. This sense of never being good enough or always having to prove one’s self is a drag on the consciousness that can become all-consuming. Hearing someone from his generation talk about such issues is important in. demonstrating that these issues have always been with us. The only way we will move forward is to have people like Mike Wallace share their experience as a way to break down the stigma that still remains around mental health issues.
Overall, this was an engaging and thoughtful documentary well-suited for anyone with an interest in journalism or television.