Movie Diary 8/2/2022

The Last Movie Stars (Ethan Hawke, 2022). The documentary method is unorthodox here, as Hawke gathers comments and voice work from his fellow actors as a way of bringing life to the story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The genesis of the project was with Newman family friend (and Rachel, Rachel screenwriter) Stewart Stern, and his interviews with Newman, Woodward, and their various associates for a proposed Newman biography that never actually happened. (If you lived in Seattle after the mid-1980s and met Stern at some point, you probably heard about this project.) Newman burned the actual tapes of those interviews, but Stern had transcribed them, so Hawke’s actors – including George Clooney as Newman and Laura Linney as Woodward – give them voice. It works very well: Not only are the testimonies interesting and often unsparing, but the whole thing feels very much in the spirit of the Method world that birthed Newman & Woodward, a kind of intense psychological investigation, an urge to understand and keep going deeper, an actors’ workshop conducted over Zoom. And like a Method workshop, it threatens to become self-indulgent, but Hawke’s commitment to and enthusiasm for the project is unwavering, and self-aware. In the final episode, The Last Movie Stars also turns into a rather moving meditation on the mysteries of marriage. The use of film clips can come dangerously close to making facile links between the onscreen personas and the stuff of real life, but sometimes – as with Hawke’s use of Torn Curtain footage as we hear about Newman’s period of trouble isolation – it’s inspired, too.