The Final Film Stars Traces the Legacy of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in Six Dazzling Components


Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman seen within the HBO Max collection ‘The Final Film Stars.’ Credit score – Courtesy of Warner Brothers

When you assume Paul Newman is the best, Ethan Hawke’s very good multi-part documentary The Final Film Stars is for you. And if you happen to solely sort-of know the work of his spouse, Joanne Woodward, The Final Film Stars is completely for you, for 2 causes. To grasp Newman as each an actor and a person, you must know one thing concerning the girl whose affect helped make him one of the crucial charismatic performers of the late twentieth century. However there’s one thing else: Woodward was one of many most interesting actors of her period, however for numerous causes—being a mom to 6 youngsters chief amongst them—she by no means had the large Hollywood profession she deserved, despite the fact that she was a star earlier than most individuals knew who her husband was. The story of Newman and Woodward is among the nice Hollywood tales, as distinguished from an ideal Hollywood romance: their partnership was so distinctive, so complete, and at some factors so rocky, that to sentimentalize it solely does it a disservice.

Hawke has deep affection for these two performers, as stars and as folks. But when The Final Film Stars, airing on HBO Max, is a piece of nice heat, Hawke simply steers away from turning it into hagiography. Hawke was approached by Woodward and Newman’s surviving youngsters, who wished to make sure that their mother and father’ work, and their extraordinary however far-from-perfect life collectively, wouldn’t be forgotten. Hawke didn’t know the couple personally, however as a teen in New Jersey, he would typically see them round his college, which one among their youngsters attended. To him, they appeared the mannequin husband-and-wife workforce, two working actors who had constructed a seemingly idyllic partnership. The Final Film Stars explores each the reality and the fallacies behind that picture, and despite the fact that a number of of the Newmans’ surviving youngsters seem within the documentary, talking candidly about their mother and father’ flaws as people, Hawke shapes all of it right into a voyage of exploration, not of muckraking. Illustrated with movie clips and archival footage that breathe life into the story, it is a portrait of two individuals who beloved their craft and one another, in nearly equal measure. It’s additionally a reminder that marriage isn’t for the faint of coronary heart—and even these unions that look nice from the skin all the time carry their share of heartache.

The Final Film Stars consists of six episodes, each operating roughly an hour. That’s quite a lot of Newman and Woodward. However when you begin digging in, you understand this factor might nearly stand to be longer, significantly given the best way Hawke frames the fabric. The spine of The Final Film Stars is an unlimited set of interviews with key gamers in Newman’s life and profession, performed by Insurgent With no Trigger screenwriter Stewart Stern. Newman had initially meant to make use of the interviews to jot down a memoir, solely to vary his thoughts; in 1998, 10 years earlier than his loss of life, he burned the tapes. (Across the identical time, he burned his tuxedo within the driveway of the household’s Connecticut residence, which tells you one thing about his relationship to fame.) Thankfully, Stern had had the tapes transcribed, and so the voices of the individuals who labored with or have been near both Newman, Woodward or each—amongst them Sidney Lumet, Martin Ritt, Gore Vidal, and Newman’s first spouse, Jackie Witte—survived on paper, at the least. For Hawke, The Final Film Stars was partly a pandemic-era mission, and so he gathered mates, colleagues and members of the family through Zoom to speak about Newman and Woodward and their twin legacies. Stern’s transcripts are dropped at life by a few of Hawke’s fellow actors: Laura Linney reads the phrases of Joanne Woodward, and George Clooney provides voice to Newman’s.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman are the subject of the HBO Max series, 'The Last Movie Stars.'<span class="copyright">Courtesy of Warner Brothers</span>

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman are the topic of the HBO Max collection, ‘The Final Film Stars.’Courtesy of Warner Brothers

If Hawke’s methodology is sophisticated to explain, the result’s wholly participating and intimate. (Hawke has a present for making offbeat, exhilarating documentaries: his 2014 Seymour: An Introduction, a portrait of New York piano instructor Seymour Bernstein, traces the inherent that means of creativity in on a regular basis life.) The Final Film Stars dips and swerves between Newman and Woodward’s private {and professional} lives, noting the factors of disharmony in addition to accord. The 2 acquired to know each other whereas engaged on the Broadway manufacturing of Picnic in 1953. Newman was required to bounce onstage and didn’t know what he was doing; Woodward, an understudy, stepped in to assist, and the duo’s relationship—which, they themselves clarify, included a bang-up intercourse life—took flight, despite the fact that Newman was married on the time, to Witte.

Those that like their true-love life tales clear and tidy ought to brace themselves: Newman and Woodward have been practically 5 years into their union when Newman lastly left Witte, shortly after the start of Witte and Newman’s youngest little one, Stephanie, who speaks frankly on-camera about how a lot Newman’s deceit broken the household and damage her mom. (Newman’s son from that first marriage, Scott, died from a drug overdose in 1978.)

However Stephanie additionally has Joanne Woodward tattooed in flowing script on her forearm. As a result of if, as this documentary reveals, Newman was typically distant and disconnected—each along with his youngsters and with Woodward, the love of his life—it was Woodward who held the prolonged household collectively, coming to like Newman’s first three youngsters as a lot as she beloved the three that she and Newman had collectively. Newman, who from the start regarded celestially lovely onscreen, and who discovered to change into a terrific actor after a rocky begin, wasn’t all the time the most effective father. However it’s fully potential that Woodward, who put her personal profession on maintain to do her greatest by six youngsters, was the extra innately gifted actor. In a number of clips culled from talk-show interviews of the Nineteen Seventies and ‘80s, Woodward speaks with daring forthrightness—for that point, or for this one—about the price of what she gave up, regardless of how a lot she beloved her youngsters.

Although The Final Film Stars is fantastically revelatory about this couple’s life collectively, which they took nice pains to maintain personal throughout their 50-year-marriage, it’s nonetheless the film clips that inform crucial a part of the story. Newman was a blinding display screen presence in footage like Hud, Cool Hand Luke, and The Verdict, to call simply three of many. In a few of these performances, he radiates an earthy carnality; in others, he betrays the common insecurities and doubts of the aged, of people that could know of their hearts they didn’t do in addition to they might have by these round them.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman seen in the HBO Max series 'The Last Movie Stars.'<span class="copyright">Courtesy of Warner Brothers</span>

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman seen within the HBO Max collection ‘The Final Film Stars.’Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Woodward was a special form of actor, and her profession took a completely contrasting form. Her huge successes got here early: she gained an Oscar lengthy earlier than her husband did, for her function in The Three Faces of Eve, launched in 1957. Within the films she made in her youth, like The Sound and the Fury and The Lengthy Sizzling Summer time, in addition to the later TV-movie roles she took on when these constituted the one work she might get, she all the time appeared to glow from inside, and her voice was the equal of a seashell’s pearlescent inside. As her husband did, she labored at her craft. (Each had studied with Technique guru Sanford Meisner.) However her spirit, animated by her personal innate sexual electrical energy, was the wellspring of all she dropped at bear onscreen or onstage.

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In one among The Final Film Stars’ most revealing moments, we hear Newman’s voice, channeled by Clooney’s, reflecting on his standing as a intercourse image. He barely understood his personal charisma, as a result of he was, by his personal admission, a person who had hassle understanding himself. It was Woodward, he says, who drew out his most resplendent qualities and empowered him to share them with the world. To look at scenes from her films is to see that reality performed out wordlessly, in her wonderful, tremulous vitality. Newman died in 2008. Woodward remains to be alive, having been identified with Alzheimers in 2007. The duo made 16 movies collectively, the ultimate one being James Ivory’s 1990 Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. Taken alone, Newman stays one of the crucial ravishing sexual beings the flicks have ever given us. However the aura that lingers round Woodward is the everlasting witchery of springtime, fierce and delicate directly. To clarify her as a performer, to explain her adequately, would demand one other six-hour documentary. As it’s, she shares this one. However you come away understanding who actually has prime billing, written in invisible but apparent ink.

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