Review: ‘Sidney,’ starring Sidney Poitier

September 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sidney Poitier in “Sidney” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Sidney”

Directed by Reginald Hudlin

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Sidney” features a predominantly African American group of people (with some white people and one person of Middle Eastern heritage), including actor/filmmaker/humanitarian Sidney Poitier, from the entertainment industry and from Poitier’s family, who all discuss Poitier’s life and legacy.

Culture Clash: Poitier, who broke many racial barriers in his long and esteemed career, experienced poverty in his childhood, racism from white people, and accusations of being a “sellout” from some members of the African American community.

Culture Audience: “Sidney” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of Poitier and real stories of people who became icons after experiencing many hardships.

Sidney Poitier in “Sidney” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

The admirable documentary “Sidney” follows a very traditional format, but in telling the story of the extraordinary Sidney Poitier, it’s no ordinary biography. Poitier’s participation gives this documentary a heartfelt resonance that’s unparalleled. It’s the last major sit-down interview that he did before he died. He passed away at the age of 94, on January 6, 2022.

Directed by Reginald Hudlin, “Sidney” is a documentary that includes the participation and perspectives of several members of Poitier’s family, including all six of his daughters and the two women who were his wives. Some journalists and historians weigh in with their opinions, but the documentary is mostly a star-studded movie of entertainers who were influenced or affected by Poitier in some way. “Sidney” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

One of the celebrity talking heads in the documentary is Oprah Winfrey, who is one of the producers of “Sidney.” She talks openly about how important Poitier was to her as a mentor during her own rise to fame as a TV talk show host and later as the owner of a media empire. Toward the end of the film, Winfrey begins crying when she says how much she misses Poitier. It’s a moment where viewers will have a hard time not getting tearful too.

Most people watching “Sidney” will already know something about Poitier before seeing this movie. His 2000 memoir “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” covers a lot of the same topics that’s covered in “Sidney.” But to see him talk about his life story and experiences in what no one knew at the time would be his last major interview brings an special poignancy to this documentary.

Born in Miami, on February 20, 1927, Poitier grew up in poverty in the Bahamas, his parents’ native country. He was the youngest of seven children born to famers Reginald and Evelyn Poitier. “I wasn’t expected to live,” Poitier says of his birth. “I was born two months premature.”

Poitier says that he was so sickly at birth, his father brought a shoe box into the birth room because the family thought that baby Sidney would have to be buried in the box. Sidney’s frantic mother took newborn Sidney to different places in the neighborhood to find anyone who could help save his life. Evelyn found a female soothsayer who said she couldn’t give any medical help, but she predicted that Sidney would be find and he would grow up to be an influential person who would find fame and fortune.

Getting to that point wasn’t easy and it was far from glamorous. In 1942, at the age of 15, his father Reginald had Sidney move to Miami and live with an aunt and uncle, because Sidney had a friend who was a juvenile delinquent, and Reginald feared that Sidney would fall in with a bad crowd. Little did Sidney know that he would be facing a different type of damage to his innocence.

In Miami, Sidney went through major culture shock and racism that drastically changed his perspective of the world. “Within a few months, I began to switch my whole view of life,” Sidney says of moving from the Bahamas to Miami. He got a part-time job as a delivery boy, and he tells a story of not understanding why a white woman who got one of his deliveries demanded that he only go to the back of the house to make the delivery. Later, when he heard that members of the Ku Klux Klan were looking for him because of this incident, he got so unnerved that he decided to leave town.

But even that attempted trip was fraught with danger, because he was harassed and stalked by white police officers, who didn’t want to see a black male having the freedom to travel wherever he wanted. Needless to say, when Sidney heard that black people had better work opportunities in New York City, he soon relocated to New York City, where he discovered his love of acting.

Life in New York City was a very difficult challenge too. For a while, Sidney was homeless and had to sleep in a public bathrooms. He got a job as a dishwasher while also taking acting classes, which he says he was like being in useful therapy, where he could pour all of his emotions into fictional characters. He read books and listened to radio stars (especially Norman Brokenshire) to learn how to speak with an American accent.

His motivation to become a great actor came from being rejected by audiences at the American Negro Theater because, as a black man, he was expected to sing, dance and be funny. Sidney wanted to be a serious dramatic actor. One of the American Negro Theater officials told Sidney that he should just give up acting altogether. We all know what happened after that Sidney got that horrible advice. It’s an excellent example of how someone can turn failure and discouragement into a triumph.

It’s mentioned several times in the documentary that Sidney’s guiding principles were to do work that would make his parents proud. That’s why, throughout his career, he rejected doing roles that were demeaning to black people. He made his film debut as a doctor in the 1950 drama “No Way Out.” And the rest is history.

The year 1950 was also the year that Sidney married his first wife, Juanita Hardy Poitier. The couple had four daughters together: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina. During the marriage, Sidney had a nine-year on-again/off-again affair with actress Diahann Carroll (who died of cancer in 2019), his co-star in 1959’s “Porgy and Bess.” Poitier and Carroll later co-starred in 1961’s “Paris Blues.” Sidney and Juanita’s marriage eventually ended in divorce in 1965. Sidney describes this period of time of his life as one of career highs but personal lows. He also expresses remorse about how his marital infidelity and divorce hurt his family.

The documentary gives chronological highlights of his career in movies and in theater. For his role in 1958’s prisoner escapee drama “The Defiant Ones” (co-starring Tony Curtis) Poitier became the first black person to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It’s mentioned in the documentary that the movie’s ending was somewhat controversial among black people, because some critics thought it was pandering to a what’s now known as a “magical Negro” stereotype.

For his role in 1963’s “Lilies in the Field,” Sidney became the first black person to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards. It was a role that was originally turned down by Poitier’s longtime friend Harry Belafonte, who was busy with a music career. Belafonte also thought that the “Lilies in a Field” role (a black man who’s a nomadic worker befriends a group of white German nuns) was too corny and subservient. Belafonte does not do an on-camera interview for this documentary, but he can be heard in a few voiceover comments.

In 1967, Sidney was a bona fide superstar as the lead actor in critically acclaimed hit movies “In the Heat of the Night,” “To Sir, with Love” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” All were groundbreaking in different ways in depicting race relations in cinema. And the fact that they were box-office successes are indications that times were changing, and the world was ready to see these types of movies.

For his “In the Heat of the Night” role, Sidney played a confident police detective named Virgil Tibbs, who demanded respect from everyone around him. There’s a famous scene in the movie where Virgil is slapped in the face by a racist white man for no good reason. In response, Virgil slaps the man in the face. At the time, it was rare for a movie to show a black man defending himself from this type of racist hate.

In “To Sir, With Love,” Sidney played a schoolteacher in East London who has to be the instructor for unruly white teenagers. It was another on-screen rarity at the time to see a black man in charge of white children. And in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Sidney had the role of a doctor who gets engaged to a white woman after a whirlwind romance, and she brings him home to introduce him to her shocked parents for the first time.

The documentary repeatedly mentions that for every accolade and trailblazing accomplishment that Sidney received, there were critics who thought that he wasn’t being “black enough.” Winfrey, who’s gotten the same type of criticism, remembers meeting Sidney after she became famous and was very in awe of meeting him. She says she asked him how he dealt with the “not black enough” criticism, and he gave her advice that she never forgot: He told her that as long as she was doing what felt right in her heart, that’s all that mattered.

Sidney and Belafonte, who were as close as brothers, were at the forefront of the entertainment industry’s involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement. However, the two friends had occasional estrangements over various issues. One of these issues was that Sidney tended to be more politically conservative than Belafonte when it came to the support of Black Power groups that advocated for preparing for a race war and all the violence associated with war, especially after the devastating 1968 deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In his senior years, Sidney became an ambassador representing the Bahamas.

The documentary mentions that by the early 1970s, the Black Power movement and blaxploitation movies made Sidney seem like a somewhat a has-been and outdated movie star to some people. He began to shift his attention more to directing and producing movies. His feature-film directorial debut was the 1972 Western “Buck and the Preacher,” in which he co-starred with Belafonte. It’s mentioned in the documentary that as a filmmaker, Sidney practiced what he preached in the civil rights movement and gave plenty of jobs to people of color in front of the camera and behind the camera.

The 1970s decade was also period of change in his personal life: Sidney and Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus fell in love while co-starring in the 1969 movie “The Lost Man.” In the “Sidney” documentary, Shimkus Poitier says she never heard of Sidney until she got the role in the movie, whose love story plot mirrored their own romance. The couple had daughters Anika and Sydney Tamiia, and then wed in 1976, and remained married until Sidney’s death.

In the documentary, Sidney says that his second marriage also gave him a second chance to be a better husband and father. His daughters from his first marriage became part of his blended family. Sydney Tamiia (who is now known as Sidney Poitier Heartstrong) mentions that her parents made sure that she and her sister Anika grew up with other interracial families, with Quincy Jones and his interracial family being close friends with the Poitier family.

Jones is one of numerous stars who have joyous and insightful things to say about Poitier. Other entertainment celebrities who are interviewed include Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Spike Lee, Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Lenny Kravitz, Barbra Streisand, Louis Gossett Jr., Katharine Houghton and Lulu. Also interviewed are civil rights activist/former politican Andrew Young, writer/historian Greg Tate, civil rights activist Rev. Willie Blue, journalist/historian Nelson George and University of Memphis history professor Aram Goudsouzian, who wrote the 2004 biography “Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon.”

All of these interviewees have wonderful things to say and are often very witty when saying these things. That is not too surprising. However, what will stay with viewers the most is that they wouldn’t be saying those things if Sidney had not had such an exemplary life. His impact is immeasurable and goes far beyond the entertainment industry. He’s an unforgettable role model of hope, dignity and progress in striving for a better world.

Apple Studios released “Sidney” in select U.S. cinemas and on Apple TV+ on September 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind,’ starring Natasha Gregson Wagner, Robert Wagner, Katie Wagner, Courtney Wagner, Robert Redford and Mart Crowley

May 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

A 1975 photo of Natalie Wood and her daughter Natasha in “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind”

Directed by Laurent Bouzereau

Culture Representation: This documentary about actress Natalie Wood interviews an all-white group of people who are primarily from the entertainment business, including her family members, friends and former colleagues.

Culture Clash: The documentary addresses Wood’s personal problems, as well as ongoing speculation that Wood’s drowning death in 1981 wasn’t an accident.

Culture Audience: “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” will appeal primarily to people interested in 20th century movie stars and biographical information about Wood that has been widely reported elsewhere.

Natalie Wood (center) with members of her business team in “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” (Photo by Billy Ray/HBO)

“Natalie Wood: What Reminds Behind,” directed by Laurent Bouzereau, is more of a tribute than an investigative documentary. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, since her eldest daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner not only produced the film, but she’s also the narrator. Gregson Wagner is also the person who does a rare sit-down interview with her stepfather Robert “RJ” Wagner, who’s been been the focus of controversy over Wood’s 1981 death by drowning when Wood was 43. Robert Wagner and his family members have all vehemently denied speculation and accusations that Wood’s death was anything other than a tragic accident.

A police investigation was re-opened in 2011 over Wood’s death, which happened the night of November 29, 1981, while she, Wagner, her “Brainstorm” co-star Christopher Walken and boat captain Dennis Davern had been staying on Wagner’s yacht Splendour near California’s Catalina Island. Davern now claims that he lied to investigators in 1981 about what really happened on the yacht.

Davern, who co-wrote a 2014 book called “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour,” claims that Wagner probably had something to do with Wood’s death and that Wagner threatened him to be part of an alleged cover-up. Natalie Wood’s younger sister Lana has also been in the media with the same accusations. And in recent years, there’s been renewed public interest in Natalie Wood’s death, with some news media calling her death an “unsolved murder.”

“Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” addresses the speculation about how she died toward the end of the film, as a rebuttal to all the negativity that’s been reported. It’s clear that the documentary was made to also give the family an outlet to rectify what they say is the damage to Natalie Wood’s legacy that the scandal has caused. Gregson Wagner, the talking head with the most screen time in the movie, essentially admits this agenda by saying that she wants her mother to be remembered mostly for how she lived, not how she died.

Before the movie addresses the speculation over Natalie Wood’s death, about 80% of it consists of a mostly glowing overview of her life and career. In terms of biographical information, there’s nothing new that’s uncovered that hasn’t already been revealed in the myriad of media reports and books about Natalie Wood.

The only people who might learn something new from watching this documentary are people who don’t know very much about Natalie Wood. And although family members and friends give personal anecdotes, none of the anecdotes is very surprising or revealing—unless you think it’s important to know that Natalie didn’t wear makeup when she was relaxing at home, or you like to see people name-drop the list of celebrities who used to go to the family’s house parties. It also comes as no surprise that she’s described as a devoted and loving mother, to the point where any flaws she might have had as a mother are not mentioned at all.

Natalie Wood (whose birth name was Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko) was the middle child of three daughters born to Russian immigrants. Her mother Maria was domineering and highly superstitious, while her father Nikolai was quiet and passive. Maria was the parent who pushed Natalie into having a showbiz career. Natalie started out as a child star and evolved into a true movie icon. She was at the peak of her fame with films such as 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” 1961’s “West Side Story,” 1961’s “Splendor in the Grass,” 1962’s “Gypsy” and 1963’s “Love With the Proper Stranger.”

By the time she was 25, she had received three Oscar nominations for Best Actress, for “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Splendor in the Grass” and “Love With the Proper Stranger.” Her other well-known films included 1969’s “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice” and the 1979 TV miniseries remake of “From Here to Eternity,” for which she won a Golden Globe.

It’s hinted in the documentary that she had “daddy issues,” since she preferred to be romantically involved with men who were older than she was. And when her sexual involvement with “Rebel Without a Cause” director Nicholas Ray is mentioned in the documentary—she filmed the movie when she was 16 and he was 43—it’s glossed over as consensual, because Natalie supposedly told people that she was “in love” with Ray.

Natalie’s relationships with the two men she married are also covered in a predictable manner for a documentary financed by one of her daughters: Problems in each marriage are mentioned briefly, but the widespread reports and scandalous details of alcohol-fueled rages, physical fights and emotional abuse are not mentioned at all. Robert Wagner (eight years older than her) was her first husband, from 1957 to 1962. Long before their first date, which Robert Wagner said was on her 18th birthday, she had a very public crush on him.

In a documentary interview with stepdaughter Natasha, Robert Wagner blames the failure of this first marriage to Natalie on “the pressure on her and her career.” And he admits that he would have handled their marital problems better if he had been “older and more experienced” at the time. Robert Wagner went on to marry actress Marion Marshall; they were married from 1963 to 1971, and had a daughter together named Katie Wagner, who’s interviewed in the film.

The movie also hints at but never fully explores the well-documented stories that Robert Wagner was a jealous and controlling husband, which led to numerous fights between him and Natalie. In the documentary, Robert Wagner admits to being very upset by Natalie’s two-year relationship with her “Splendor in the Grass” co-star Warren Beatty, which began after the movie finished filming and while she was separated from Robert Wagner.

“I was ready to go after him,” says Robert Wagner. “I can talk about it easily now, but at the time, it was a little bit difficult, as you can imagine.” Playwright/author Mart Crowley, who became a lifelong close friend of Natalie’s, starting when he was a production assistant on “Splendor in the Grass,” insists that the romance that Natalie had with Beatty was not the cause of her failed marriage to Robert Wagner.

Other men she dated after the divorce included Frank Sinatra, Henry Jaglom, Michael Caine, David Niven Jr., Arthur Loew Jr. and Kadislav Baltnik—the latter two men she was also engaged to but never married. Niven is briefly interviewed in the documentary, and he says he was an anomaly for her paramours because he was younger than Natalie.

In 1969, she married British agent-turned-producer Richard Gregson, and had daughter Natasha with him in 1970. But that marriage fell apart in 1972, after he cheated on her with her secretary. Gregson died in 2019, but he is interviewed here with Parkinson’s disease, and he admits that his infidelity was the main cause of the divorce. Although he mostly praises Natalie, he does say that her temper could be pretty fearsome: “When she let go, she let go,” he comments. It’s yet another vague reference that isn’t followed up with more details.

Natalie’s issues with mental health is also not new information, since she revealed back in the 1970s that she was in psychiatric therapy for years. The documentary mentions that in 1964, she intentionally overdosed on pills while she was staying at Crowley’s place, who remembers that she banged on his door to get help immediately after taking the pills. The incident is explained by daughter Natasha as “not really a suicide attempt” but more of a “cry for help.”

But even her serious problems with mental health get a very positive spin in the documentary. Natalie is also given almost saint-like treatment when Robert Wagner says: “She convinced me to go into analysis … and it saved my life.”

In 1972, Natalie remarried Robert Wagner (who’s called “the love of her life”), and they remained married until her death in 1981. In 1974, Natalie and Robert had a daughter named Courtney together, who’s also interviewed in the documentary. The couple raised Courtney and Natasha, while Katie lived with them part-time. Natasha said she called her biological father Daddy Gregson and her stepfather Daddy Wagner.

Not surprisingly, the children have nothing but good things to say about their parents. Natasha says that Robert raised her as if she were his biological child. And as for her mother: “We weren’t raised by someone who seemed like a movie star at all. She seemed larger-than-life not because she was famous but more because she was her.”

Courtney Wagner, who was 7 when her mother died, gets teary-eyed when commenting: “My memory of her is ever-evolving. I hope I can get to a place where I can access the true feeling that this was my mother, that I came from her, and she was mine for a short time. It’s been very hard to hold on to that.” It’s mentioned in the documentary that Courtney is a recovering addict/alcoholic whose trauma has a lot to do with losing her mother at such a young age.

The documentary includes the expected film clips and archival footage, but the film mostly serves as a series of flattering commentaries about Natalie Wood from people in her inner circle. They include Josh Donen, Robert Wagner’s stepson who lived in a guest house on Wood/Wagner property for years (Donen is the biological son of Robert Wagner’s ex-wife Marion Marshall); Liz Applegate, who was Natalie’s personal assistant from 1977 to 1981; and close friend Mia Farrow, who describes Natalie as “smart” and “incredibly well-organized.”

There are also numerous former colleagues of Natalie Wood who sing her praises. Robert Redford gives her credit for giving him his big movie breakthrough, because she insisted that a then-unknown Redford co-star with her in the 1965 film “Inside Daisy Clover.” Redford was also the best man at the wedding of Natalie Wood and Richard Gregson, who was Redford’s agent at the time.

Redford comments, “It’s a tough business, and to survive in that business, you have to have a tough side to you, and I think she [Natalie Wood] had to develop that, but it wasn’t comfortable [for her]. What she really wanted to do was to laugh and have fun and be a regular person. But mainly, she had a big heart, and that showed in her work.”

One of the more interesting things that the documentary points out is how Natalie Wood was one of the first actresses in Hollywood to break out of the sexist oppression of the studio system, by demanding and getting equal pay for herself and her male co-stars who also received top billing. Farrow says of Natalie Wood’s Hollywood clout: “In a town where women weren’t always respected … she was an exception.”

Other former colleagues who pay their respects to Natalie Wood in the documentary include actors George Hamilton, Richard Benjamin, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon, George Segal and Tonya Crowe, as well as directors Peter Hyams, John Irvin and Douglas Trumball. The documentary also has commentaries from publicist Alan Nierob, film critic/author Julie Salamon, photographer Martin Childers, Delphine Mann (one of Natalie Wood’s close friends) and Julia Gregson, who was married to Richard Gregson after Natalie Wood divorced him.

Several people in the documentary (including Natalie Wood’s children) share painful memories about the day that they found out that she died. Meanwhile, Julia Gregson remembers the star-studded party held at the Wood/Wagner mansion the day after Wood’s funeral as being “bizarre” and “surreal” because Elizabeth Taylor was there with a crystal ball, and Shirley MacLaine was trying to “heal RJ.”

Natasha, Courtney and Katie also talk about how disturbingly intrusive the media could be after Natalie’s tragic death, by taking photos of them in their backyard and following them around. The daughters and Applegate (Wood’s last personal assistant) give a lot of credit to the family’s African American nanny Willie Mae Worthen (who died in 2017, at the age of 90), for being a source of strength before and after Natalie’s tragic death. Applegate describes Worthen as “very brusque but loving.”

Robert Wagner’s current wife Jill St. John—who married him in 1990, after they were live-in partners for several years—also chimes in, by saying about her relationship with him: “We did fall in love, but not immediately.” She also talks about how it was difficult for Courtney and Natasha to accept her as a stepmother, but Natasha says they were able to get through it with a lot of therapy.

People who believe that Natalie Wood’s death was not an accident say that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner’s marriage was volatile at the time that she died. “Brainstorm” co-star Walken was rumored to be in a romance with Natalie, and their relationship was allegedly causing problems in her marriage. But according to what people say in this documentary, rumors of a Wood/Walken affair are completely untrue.

The 1983 film “Brainstorm,” which Trumball directed, was Natalie Wood’s last movie. In this documentary, Trumball insists that Wood and Walken were not having an affair. He says of the sex scene that Wood and Walken had together in the movie: “There was almost no physical charisma between them at all.” Robert Wagner’s stepson Donen also echoes this belief Walken was never Natalie Wood’s lover, and Donen says that Natalie Wood told him that directly.

As for what happened that fateful night on November 29, 1981, Robert Wagner says in the documentary that everyone on the boat had been drinking heavily, and he admits that he was also “high,” but he doesn’t elaborate on which drug(s). And although it’s mentioned elsewhere in the documentary that Natalie Wood had a well-known phobia of being immersed in open waters at night—fueling speculation that she would never have climbed into a dinghy alone that night, which is Robert Wagner’s version of what led to her drowning—he never addresses that phobia in the documentary.

He also repeats what he’s said in other interviews: He and Natalie had been arguing about Walken, the argument got violent—he admits to smashing a bottle during the fight—and he told Walken to stay out of Natalie’s life. Walken is not interviewed in the documentary, and he has rarely spoken publicly about Natalie Wood since her death. In the documentary, Robert Wagner says that Walken was a gentleman and that no one should be blamed for Natalie’s death.

Early in the documentary, Robert Wagner is shown getting emotional when he says: “There hasn’t been a day that’s ever gone by where I haven’t thought about Natalie and how much she meant to me in my heart and in my soul. We started so young, and to see her evolve over the years to the woman she was, was very special.”

As for how Robert Wagner feels about being named by police as a “person of interest” in the re-opened case, he says defiantly in the documentary: “I don’t pay much attention to it. They’re not going to redefine me. I know who I am.”

Natasha replies, “It bothers me that anyone would think that you would be involved in what happened to her, because you would’ve given your life to my mom.” Wagner says, “We all would’ve.”

The “villains” portrayed in the documentary are boat captain Davern, the tabloid media outlets that keep fueling stories that Natalie Wood was murdered, and Natalie’s younger sister Lana. The documentary’s view of Davern is that he’s a greedy opportunist who changed his initial story to sell his book; that the media also push the murder theory for money reasons; and that Lana Wood is looking for attention because her career as an actress was never as successful as Natalie’s career. (Davern and Lana Wood are not interviewed in the documentary, and it’s not mentioned if the filmmakers contacted either of them for a comment.)

Courtney Wagner says of her aunt Lana’s push to have Robert Wagner charged with the murder of Natalie: “I don’t think she believes what she’s saying. I think she’s just angry. I can understand that … but it’s so hard to imagine when [my father] experienced a true nightmare.”

Whatever people might believe about how Natalie Wood died, this family feud is a very sad epilogue to the tragedy. If you take the documentary for what it is—a family tribute to Natalie Wood, not a tell-all chronicle to expose the family’s dirty laundry—then “Natalie Wood: What Reminds Behind” will fulfill those expectations. It’s obvious that there’s a lot of love that went to making this film that honors Natalie Wood. Just don’t expect to learn anything that strays from the movie’s themes that she was a great mother, wife and actress, and that her death was a complete accident that was no one’s fault.

HBO premiered “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” on May 5, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound’

April 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

Making Waves
“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” interviewee Walter Murch re-recording mixing of “Apocalypse Now” (Photo by W.S. Murch)

“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”

Directed by Midge Costin

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 29, 2019.

“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” is the type of documentary that is best seen in a movie theater, where the film’s impressive sound editing and sound mixing can be best appreciated.  It’s also the kind of documentary that some might consider too technical for their tastes, but it’s a must-see for cinephiles, film students or anyone who cares to find out more about the history of sound in film.

The movie does a quick run-through of the transition between silent films and “talkies” to get to the heart of the film—the movies and filmmakers who’ve had the most influence on today’s cinematic experiences. Like a classroom presentation at a film school, “Making Waves” takes a somewhat academic approach in describing the different components of sound in cinema. And that’s probably because “Make Waves” director Midge Costin is an Oscar-nominated sound editor who’s also a professor of sound at USC Film School. The movie divides the discussion intro three categories: voice, sound effects and music. In the voice category are production recording, dialogue editing and ADR (automated dialog replacement). In the sound effects category are SFX, Foley and ambience.

“Making Waves” also interviews many of the top filmmakers in the industry, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuarón, Sofia Coppola, Ang Lee, Ryan Coogler, Robert Redford, David Lynch and Barbra Streisand. Sound designers/editors interviewed in the documentary Walter Murch (a longtime collaborator with Francis Ford Coppola), Ben Burtt (a favorite of George Lucas), Bobbi Banks (“The Fate of the Furious,” “Straight Outta Compton”), Anna Behlmer (“Moulin Rouge!”, 2009’s “Star Trek”) and Gary Rydstrom, who’s worked on numerous Steven Spielberg movies.

The documentary takes the position that sound in cinema really began to hit its stride in the 1970s, with movies like “The Godfather” and “Star Wars.” There are several movies that are singled out for their pioneering sound. The 1976 version  of “A Star Is Born” is credited with being the first to fully utilize stereo effects in sound editing. Streisand, who starred in the movie and was one of the film’s producers, tells a story in “Making Waves” about how she had to pay $1 million of her own money for the sound, and Warner Bros. Pictures ended up being so impressed with the movie’s sound quality that the movie studio ended up covering the $1 million cost.

Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece “Apocalypse Now” pioneered surround sound, while 1995’s “Toy Story” is considered a breakthrough animated film for sound. Other movies whose sound is given a spotlight in “Making Waves” include “Jurassic Park,” “Argo,” “Top Gun,” “Selma,” “Inception,” “Ordinary People,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “A River Runs Through It.” As for music in movies, the Beatles are credited with being pioneers on screen, as well as being major influences on filmmakers who were fans of the band. “Making Waves” also has interviews with famous composers such as Hans Zimmer and Ludwig Goransson, who gives a demonstration of how he crafted his Oscar-winning score for “Black Panther.”

Although a few of the people interviewed in “Making Waves” come across as bit dull, “Making Waves” is still worth seeing for the way it gives valuable history lessons in cinema. Just don’t watch this movie on a phone or a computer, or you’ll be missing out on the full sound experience of the movie and the reason why this documentary exists.

UPDATE: “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” opens in New York City and Los Angeles on October 25, 2019. The movie expands to more cities in the U.S. and Canada, beginning November 1, 2019.

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