Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind speaks of the actress' incredible life and avoids focusing on the mystery of her death
The HBO film, produced by Wood's daughter, airs today on May 5.
Natalie Wood’s career started at the age of four and by the end of her life the actress appeared in some of the most beloved films of the 20th century, while continuously rebelling against Hollywood norms. As a way to shift the public’s long-lasting focus on Wood's death and remind people of the woman and actress behind the stories, her daughter - Natasha Gregson Wagner - produced a documentary titled Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, set to air on HBO, May 5.
Earlier this year, both Gregson Wagner and the film’s director Laurent Bouzerean - whose previous works include Five Come Back and Don't Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Richard D. Zanuck Story - spoke to IndieWire at the Sundance Film Festival. Ahead of the film's premiere, Bouzerean said that he resisted the idea of telling a chronological story of Wood's life, instead deciding early on to look at the material through the prism of her family and the connecting voice of Natasha. This, he expressed, may help even the ones who possibly have never heard of the actress before, feel a connection and feel motivated to get familiarized with her career.
Gregson Wagner opened to the director her extensive archive of home movies and Wood’s own testimonies of her life – diaries and letters – which were used in the film. What completes them are people that the actress was close to, family and friends, most of them well known to the public. Wood's daughter serves as the guiding voice of the documentary, as she speaks to her stepfather - actor Robert Wagner - as well as friends of Natalie; Mia Farrow, Robert Redford, and others.
The San Francisco born actress and daughter of Russian immigrants had a career that earned her three Oscar nominations before the age of 25, appearing and starring in films such as Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, and Love With the Proper Stranger. Yet, her acting was at times the subject of critiques. In 1966, Wood was given the Harvard Lampoon award for being the "Worst Actress of Last Year, This Year, and Next” and she became the first performer to appear to accept the award, seemingly knowing how to shift the narrative of her life’s story. After 1970, she semi-retired and did only a handful of films while focusing more on television.
Still, the actress is now most talked about in the context of her death at the age of 43. During the making of Brainstorm, in 1981, Wood was on a weekend boat trip to Catalina Island with Wagner and her co-star Christoper Walken. While it was clear the death was caused by drowning, how she got into the water was never determined and the case has recently been re-opened, putting her husband once again at the centre of media speculations.
This film does not indulge such curiosities, taking a stance against the narrative of Natalie Wood's story created by those who did not know her. While her death is unavoidably mentioned, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind resists to discuss the tragedy more than deemed necessary by her family. Instead, the film focuses on everything that preceded the night of her death - Wood's rich and fascinating life.