Documentary Review: ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind’

Ben Miles

She was a child star, giving superlative performances in Hollywood classics. No, not Shirley Temple – though she too was a screen darling. No, not Elizabeth Taylor – though their film careers and personal lives did often seem to parallel one another – multiple marriages, big-screen radiance and controversies that were regular fodder for gossip columnists. The actress being referred here is Natalie Wood, the subject of the HBO documentary, “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind.”

The one hour and forty-two minute documentary is directed Laurent Bouzereau and produced by Ms. Wood’s eldest daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, whose biological father is former Hollywood agent and film producer Richard Gregson. Ms. Gregson Wagner, is one of Natalie Wood’s two children, the other child given birth by Ms. Wood is Courtney Brooke Wagner, whose biological father is Robert Wagner. Ms. Gregson Wagner refers to her biological father as Daddy Gregson and her stepfather – Ms. Wood married Mr. Wagner twice – as Daddy Wagner.

In the documentary we get an early glimpse of Ms. Wood’s natural talent in film clips from “Miracle on 34th Street” as well in her breakthrough role as a conflicted teen beauty opposite James Dean in ”Rebel Without a Cause,” for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. In the making of that film, it’s director, Nicholas Ray, apparently had an intimate affair with the 16 year-old Natalie. Nevertheless, despite such trespasses, Natalie Wood continued to assert her intelligence, hone her craft and shape her movie career in such films as “West Side Story,” “Splendor in the Grass,” and “Love with the Proper Stranger” – for the last two titles, Ms. Wood received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The documentary includes interviews with such notables as Robert Redford (he credits Ms. Wood for launching his film career, after seeing him perform on Broadway), Mia Farrow (a formidable talent and advocate in her own right), and Elliot Gould (with whom Ms. Wood performed with in the risqué 1969 cinema piece, “Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice”).

“Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” is an engrossing biography of Ms. Wood until it transforms itself into a lurid “48 Hours” type of muckraking. And while that might be of interest to some viewers, it seems somehow crass and indulgent after tracing the outstanding artistic achievements of an American original.

“Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” is an HBO production which is available on demand to HBO subscribers.


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