Examining the Image: Mike Wallace Is Here (2019) + Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018)

November 9, 2019 | By

I decided to start a new round of reviews using two recent docs that deal with figures who became the news in spite of their respective activities as journalist, and as actress-activist. In both cases, the subjects had wandered through gigs in an attempt to learn career skills and find their bliss, so to speak.

In the case of Mike Wallace, bliss was a double-edged sword for the TV icon, initially finding his identity as an investigative reporter during the late 1950s but having to wait roughly a decade until a news show called 60 Minutes gave him the plum opportunity to be a blunt-force interviewer.

Wallace had personal demons – depression, and an addiction to work – which eventually came to a head late in life, and it’s his on-camera admission to a colleague that humanizes the otherwise hard, strategic and brutally patient journalist covered in Avi Belkin’s Mike Wallace Is Here (from Magnolia on DVD) – an energetic collage featuring amazing slices of TV, political, and pop culture history.

To the other icon, as a young woman, Jane Fonda decided to try acting after she wandered to her dad’s beachfront neighbour, Lee Strasberg.

The pioneer of Method Acting singled her out after an in-class performance, and told her she had genuine talent, which gave her a needed push to develop skills in theatre and film, but as the eponymous subject recounts in Jane Fonda in Five Acts (from HBO on DVD and digital download), she too had hang-ups and demons, and while she grew as a person through each of her marriages, it wasn’t until she divorced media mogul Ted Turner that she took time for serious self-reflection, dug through files to confront family secrets, and eventually gained some closure – not complete, but enough to step away from a dark quandary, and move forward.

I gravitated to these documentaries after taking a long pause from writing and video work to similarly reassess personal and supposed professional choices; not a mid-life crisis, but what’s been a prolonged period of dissatisfaction. A rut, a worn groove, and recurring maneuvers that aren’t really maneuvers but habits which fail to knock the needle a few grooves ahead, and push into the next track.

Even for a reviewer, movies offer escapism, but documentaries can nudge the viewer, especially when the subject manages to be frank, and perhaps because of parallel issues, there’s clarity on both sides of the screen.

It’s why docs resonate differently from fiction films, so while new and belated reviews will pop up over the coming weeks at KQEK.com, I’m looking forward to 2020 when some old projects are fully completed, and a new one will signify whacking the stylus to a new track.

Until the first non-cryptic glimpses emerge, let’s wrap up 2019 with a smattering of reviews covering eclectic works.

Coming next: late career Clark Gable in Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men (1955) on Twilight Time Blu + Robert Wise’s top-notch submarine drama Run Silent, Run Deep (1958).

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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