The generation obsessed with social media and information that’s instantly available may not even know who Mike Wallace was (and they’re the worse off for it). Though 60 Minutes, the show he helped create in 1968, is still on the air and remains a mainstay in television news, featuring some of the most respected journalists of our day, it’s not exactly a go-to for millennials seeking an informed perspective on the world. That could be because it’s a show, like Wallace himself, that takes its time on any given story, preferring to dig deep and uncover all the most important details rather than rush to report and feed the 24-hour-news cycle.
Avi Belkin’s Mike Wallace Is Here takes a similar approach to recounting the life, times and confrontations of the famously cantankerous newsman, who worked in television in one capacity or another for over half a century. Wallace himself—through archival footage and interviews—recounts his remarkable life as one of America’s most trusted journalists in the decades between a nascent television industry and the birth of cable news and the 24-hour news cycle. Those who know him only as an anchor on 60 Minutes (a role he held since the show started in 1968) might be surprised to learn that Wallace actually got his start in television as an actor, taking bit-parts here and there and even appearing in various commercials. In order to bring in a more steady income, Wallace transitioned to journalism, working as a field reporter for years. Watching the footage of both of these phases of his life is a bit like seeing your grandparents’ high school yearbook, images from a bygone era that add all kinds of context to the person you know only in their later years.
By the time he took the job at 60 Minutes, Wallace was already an established journalist, but his access and headlines only increased as the show’s success grew. The clips from his long, storied career are a who’s who of iconic interview subjects, from Barbara Streisand to Vladimir Putin; Belkin smoothly pieces the footage together without bias, an approach Wallace would’ve been proud of (he died in 2012). Over and over again, Wallace is direct and plain spoken, often to a fault. He knows just how far to push his subjects, and then pushes a little bit further as if to see if he can get away with it (and get the story in the process). There are plenty of familiar faces throughout, but most interesting are moments when the tables are turned and Wallace is asked some of the probing questions usually reserved for his interviewees. Perhaps for the first time, much is revealed about a man who spent his life uncovering everyone else’s stories.
Mike Wallace Is Here is now playing at Landmark Century Cinema.
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