Mike Wallace Is Here
Mike Wallace Is Here is a mostly fluffy documentary on the famed 60 Minutes host and interviewer. Though Wallace was known for being tough on his subjects, this bio avoids those tactics altogether.
Crafted together exclusively through archival footage, Mike Wallace Is Here is a collage of the reporter’s life through only what we could see on screen. The film is bookended by an interview with Bill O’Reilly (who drew boos from my audience), wherein O’Reilly credits Wallace with starting the industry of asking tough questions on camera. Wallace is clearly uncomfortable with the comparison, especially after showing a montage of O’Reilly telling his interview subjects to “Shut up.” It’s clear that something has been lost generationally as O’Reilly is confusing the two journalistic styles, and Mike Wallace Is Here spends its time trying to show precisely where that fissure lies.
Wallace, in previous interviews, had talked about his childhood and his early career. Through footage of his early days selling anything he could on TV, and through the archival voiceover, we learn all about his start in the business and his misgivings about being an ad man. He knew that he wanted to be on screen, but had not found his niche yet. When he discovered his love of interviews and the fact that he was actually pretty good at doing them, everything clicked into place for him. The rest is, well, the rest.
The documentary moves swiftly along Wallace’s life through the window of his interviews, and there’s an awful lot to cover. On screen chats with Arthur Miller, Salvador Dalí, Barbara Streisand, Richard Nixon, Malcom X, Rod Serling, and Leona Helmsley are all cross-cut together to show Wallace’s manner of dealing with people, and not merely the subject of their interviews. Most interestingly, we often see a split-screen with the vantage point of both Wallace and his subject side by side. This insight into their pre-tape banter seems to give a greater picture of the man himself than decades of his reporting ever did.
While the doc gets into some heavy personal topics, it does so at a certain distance from Wallace. This might be indicative of what he was actually like as a person off-camera, but it doesn’t lend itself to being an intimate portrait of the reporter. Everything we see on screen comes from footage he knew was being recorded, and he doesn’t seem like any kind of fool. His image is measured and controlled, and the same goes for what we see in the documentary.
Despite that distance, Wallace was an absolutely fascinating man whose extensive television life lends itself well to a documentary filled with celebrities and world leaders.