Sundance 2020: Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind

A still from Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind by Laurent Bouzereau, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind goes beyond the mystery surrounding the death of the iconic actress by giving us insight into the life she lived.

There’s a certain sadness in watching the documentary.  Maybe it is because of knowing the actress didn’t live a full life.  Or maybe its because of my hormones that I couldn’t stop crying.  I don’t know but you should always hug your loved ones no matter what.  Okay, I digress.

Natalie Wood was a product of the studio system.  However, she was able to stand up against Jack Warner. This resulted in at least one film a year that the actress could choose rather than the studio.  As such, the actress would end up in films such as Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story.  The daughter of Russian immigrants is probably the last person one would see cast as Maria in the musical.  She certainly would not have made the decision again.

It would be hard to make a Natalie Wood documentary without discussing the tragic night.  There’s something vulnerable in watching Robert Wagner recounting his memories from that night.  At the same time, there’s no documentary without the conversation.  It just couldn’t happen.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy to discuss but it had to be done.  Unfortunately, the only footage of Christopher Walken is from archival interviews only.  But based on what’s said about the relationship between him and Wood on the set of Brainstorm, it should be easy to discount the idea of a love triangle.

It’s kind of funny that this documentary only happened as a result of a 2016 book, Reflections on a Legendary Life.  Wood is the type of actress to which there ought to be no end of available material.  We’re privileged to hearing about the actress in interviews with family, friends, and colleagues.  Moreover, there’s a 1966 article in which Wood opens up about her life in Ladies Home Journal.  This is certainly one the documentary’s strongest parts by far.  There are other times in which the archives allow us to listen to Wood in her own voice.

To the film’s credit, it’s not a linear documentary.  It’s a film that moves along theme by theme before diving into the elephant in the room.  Younger viewers will probably find themselves being educated in viewing the film.  For those with very little film education, this documentary offers a number of films to look into watching.

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind will leave a new legacy behind for an iconic actress.

DIRECTOR:  Laurent Bouzereau
FEATURING:  Natasha Gregson Wagner, Robert Wagner, Courtney Wagner, Katie Wagner, Joshua Donen, Richard Gregson, Julia Gregson, Sarah Gregson, Julie Salamon, Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Mart Crowley, David Niven Jr., Delphine Mann, Liz Applegate, Peter Hyams, Richard Benjamin, Alice Emmy Price, Michael Childers, Alan Nierob, Dyan Cannon, Elliott Gould, Tonya Crowe, George Segal, Douglas Trumbull

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres program. HBO will air the documentary in spring 2020. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.