Saturday, March 19, 2022

SXSW: The Last Movie Stars

Credit: Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward are the subjects of a new documentary streaming later this year on HBO Max. Told in six chapters, The Last Movie Stars chronicles Newman and Woodward's acting careers, including the sixteen films they made together, and their enduring love story. I had the privilege of attending the world premiere of the first chapter at this year's SXSW Film Festival and am thrilled to share a bit about this documentary with you.

The Last Movie Stars is the brainchild of producer Emily Wachtel who was close friends with the Newman-Woodward family and was able to get access to recordings, photos and home videos used in the film. Ethan Hawke directed the film and gave the project an "actors on actors" perspective.

The project began just as the pandemic put us all in isolation. The film embraces the constraints of the pandemic and is primarily composed of archival footage, movie clips, narration and Zoom interviews. This works quite well in the first chapter and I'm curious to see if continues to work or if it will bog down the rest of the film.

To offer some background, some years ago Paul Newman started working on a memoir. He invited friends and family to tell their stories about their relationships with him including his wife Joanne Woodward, his ex-wife Jackie Witte, his friends and fellow collaborators Gore Vidal, Karl Malden, Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan and more. He also recorded himself discussing different aspects of his life and career. It's uncertain why but Newman eventually destroyed all of these recordings. Lucky for us, they were all transcribed and those transcriptions survived. 

In The Last Movie Stars, Ethan Hawke invites his actor friends to read the transcriptions in the voices of the various subjects. George Clooney plays Paul Newman, Laura Linney plays Joanne Woodward, Zoe Kazan plays Jackie Witte, Vincent D'Onofrio plays Gore Vidal, etc. Other actors include Mark Ruffalo, Billy Crudup, Sam Rockwell, Oscar Isaac and Steve Zahn. Along with their narrations, there are Zoom interviews with all of the actors. They share their mutual admiration for Newman and Woodward with Hawke who guides the story. There are also of other interviews with figures like Sally Field and Martin Scorsese who don't narrate but offer their perspectives and stories. It's a very meta approach. The audience follows along with the creation of the documentary as they learn more about these two fascinating subjects from film history.

The documentary's core purpose which is to tell the story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Chapter one focuses on how they became actors, their affair which lead to the break-up of Newman's first marriage and the beginning of their lifelong adventure together. One takeaway from the first chapter is that Woodward very much came into her own at the beginning of her career while it took Newman to really discover himself as an actor. Newman eventually overshadowed Woodward as his fame skyrocketed. However, the two had a mutual respect for each other and Woodward was able to find a deeper meaning to her life and career. With The Last Movie Stars, producer Emily Wachtel and director Ethan Hawke are reintroducing Newman and Woodward to a new generation with the hope that telling their story will help reinforce their legacy as the great actors they were. 

Watching The Last Movie Stars reinvigorated me. My purpose has always been to keep film history alive and share the joys of classic movies with others. This documentary does just that. Having seen the first chapter, I am anxious to see the next five. At the world premiere, Hawke shared that the first three chapters are completed but the last three are still in the editing process. He estimated that they'll be done by June. A streaming date has yet to be announced.

Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas

Ethan Hawke introducing The Last Movie Stars at SXSW

Q&A after the world premiere. Left to Right: Richard Linklater, Emily Wachtel, Ethan Hawke

I hope to do a full review once all six chapters of the documentary are available.

Note to add: While Joanne Woodward is still with us, she suffers from alzheimer's disease and was not able to be interviewed for this project. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

SXSW: Still Working 9 to 5

Directed by Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, Still Working 9 to 5 (2022) chronicles the making of 9 to 5 (1980), its impact on our culture and its legacy while also examining the continued struggle women face in the workplace.

In the late 1970s, a movement was gaining steam. With every passing year women were becoming a bigger and bigger part of the workforce. However, they were paid less than their male counterparts, had to endure sexual harassment and were shut out of potentially lucrative positions. 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, became an integral part of the women's movement, advocating for equality in the workplace. And it was out of this rallying cry for change that the dark comedy 9 to 5 (1980) was born.

9 to 5 stars Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as a trio of office workers who seek revenge on their manipulative boss, played by Dabney Coleman. 

The film was the brainchild of Jane Fonda and producer Bruce Gilbert. Originally it was meant to be more of a drama. It was a decided that a comedy would be more palatable to audiences and would be a more effective way of delivering the movie's social message. Many of the dramatic elements remain and this comedy has plenty of dark and disturbing moments along with the humor. The story was written by Patricia Resick and Colin Higgins was hired as both director and co-screenwriter. 20th Century Fox picked up the project for production and distribution. The intention was to have five female leads but that was pared down to just the three. The roles of Judy, Violet and Doralee were written with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in mind. Fonda was known for her activism, Tomlin had a hit Broadway show and Parton was a rising country music star. The three were at the top of their game and ready to launch this film into the stratosphere.

9 to 5 (1980) was an amazing success thanks to the film's message, the three dynamic leads, Coleman's excellent villain role and Dolly Parton's theme song 9 to 5 which she wrote and performed for the film.

Still Working 9 to 5 (2022) features interviews with star trio Fonda, Tomlin and Parton as well as Dabney Coleman, writer Patricia Resick and producer Bruce Gilbert. Having access to so many key players adds a wealth of insight that makes this documentary so valuable. Other interviewees include Rita Moreno, who starred in the TV spinoff, Allison Janney, who starred in the Broadway production, and activists, particularly those involved with the 9to5 organization. 

9 to 5 was both a product of its era but also timeless and the documentary expertly weaves behind-the-scenes information with context to demonstrate this. Along with the interviews are archival footage of the movement, TV clips from the film's media tour, clips from 9 to 5 and a new rendition of the theme song performed by Dolly Parton and Kelly Clarkson. Just like the original film, the documentary has a clear social message: while we've made strides towards equality, we still have a long way to go.

Still Working 9 to 5 (2022) had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. Release dates and streaming details are yet to be determined.

Visit the official website to find out more about the film!

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook