I had no problems with Laurent Bouzereau‘s Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (HBO, now streaming). Never boring or irksome or in any way synthetic, it’s an intimate, considerate, mostly fair-minded portrait of a complex but understandable dynamo survivor who pushed hard during her 25-year peak period (mid ’40s to ’70 or thereabouts), and who had a lot of fire and brass and joy.
Produced by Wood’s actress daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner along with Wood biographer Manoah Bowman, the 100-minute doc is proably the smoothest and most highly polished study of the late actress ever assembled, certainly from my perspective. Bouzereau is a pro-level craftsman from way back, it has a lot of private footage that I’ve never seen before, and it struck me as “honest” and “forthcoming” as far as the terms allow. If you accept the fact, I mean, that it’s a friendly, family-controlled portrait, and that none of the icky or tawdry stuff is going to be used.
The long-rumored assault upon the teenaged Wood by a certain recently deceased superstar at the Beverly Hills hotel sometime in ’55 or thereabouts — this isn’t even alluded to. Wood’s 1964 suicide attempt is briefly mentioned, but her then-current entanglement with Warren Beatty isn’t explored with much depth. Her 11.29.81 drowning death isn’t explored in any way you haven’t heard about or considered before. It was just a tremendously sad tragedy that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if Wood, husband Robert Wagner and Brainstorm costar Chris Walken hadn’t been drinking so heavily. Wagner’s confession about smashing a wine bottle while arguing with Walken certainly gets your attention, but this is the kind of thing that drunk people do when they’re really angry. Whatever really happened will never surface so let it go.
All in all, What Remains Behind is mesmerizing — poised, exacting, carefully honed and haunting as far as it goes. Definitely worth a looksee. Just don’t expect the moon.