There was a time when there weren’t two stars bigger than her. Paul Newman shone in Hollywood, and Joanne Woodward was adored by her peers. Decades have passed, although subsequent generations have not forgotten them and proof of this is The Last Movie Stars, a documentary series by CNN Films and HBO Max directed by Ethan Hawke, the third and fourth chapters of which were presented by the same Hawke at sunset yesterday in the Cannes Classics section of the French festival.
The life of Newman (Shaker Heights, Ohio, 1925 – West Port, Connecticut, 2008) and Woodward (Thomasville, Georgia, 92 years old) was no picnic; In addition, Newman’s alcoholism and some infidelities were poised to capsize the marriage. However, as the series explains, they respected each other professionally and personally enough that there was never any jealousy or sentimental trompe-l’oeil on set. Newman famously said, “Why would I want a hamburger on the street when there’s a steak waiting for me at home?” that I’m a vegetarian, every time I heard she would hit him.”
Speaking for Hawke at his series’ gala session in Cannes, he said: “The 50-year love affair between Newman and Woodward also reflects half a century of great cinema. They had a huge race. They cared deeply about his legacy. They loved each other, cared for each other and had fun and won Best Actor and Actress here. This festival was a huge part of his artistic life and for that reason it means a lot to us to be here.” They met in class at the Actor’s Studio, where Hawke was emphatic, “They had Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe as classmates…”.
Hawke recalled Elia Kazan’s statement that if Brando was the greatest, Newman was the hardest worker. And the actor confessed his first memory of Newman: “My personal history with Newman begins on a strange Sunday. That day we always went to church, I hated it as much as my stepmother liked it. I was ten years old when she got sick one Sunday and my father asked me on the way to church if we wouldn’t skip mass and go to the movies to see a morning show of Two Men and a Destiny. That’s how it went.”
Ethan Hawke on the red carpet in Cannes on Saturday afternoon Daniel Cole (AP)
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The series was born from exceptional material. At the end of his life, Newman decided to write a memoir, interviewing dozens of colleagues and friends. While collecting the material, he changed his mind about the book and burned the recordings, although the transcripts were saved and remained in the family’s hands. The youngest daughter, Clea, contacted Hawke and gave him access to all the material. Hence one of the most controversial aspects of the series: these lyrics are written by actors such as George Clooney (voices Newman), Laura Linney (Woodward), Zoe Kazan (Jackie Witte, Newman’s first wife) or Sam Rockwell (Stuart Rosenberg, the director of The Legend of the Good and A Man of Today). Since the montage was made at the beginning of the pandemic, Hawke chats with his colleagues via zoom, which visually detracts from the result.
On screen, immersion in the couple’s lives reveals her drive to continue artistically and Woodward’s desire to find a true home with the three children from Newman’s first marriage (Scott, the eldest and only man, he died of a drug overdose in 1978). create 28 years old) and their three daughters; Paul Newman explains on-screen that his children would probably write “here lies a father who should have spent more time with his children” on his tombstone. There is also space for his horrible relationship with his mother, Theresa Gart, a repressive woman who failed to understand that after his death her young son did not take over her husband’s sporting goods store but instead pursued a career he dubbed “pornography.” designated.
One Christmas in New York, the mother told Newman she understood that Woodward didn’t like her because she knew she had slept with Gore Vidal. Newman opened the car door, forced her out, and they didn’t speak to each other for 15 years. The emotions evoked by this confrontation, Rosenberg says, grow into the devastating moment when the protagonist of The Legend of the Indomitable learns of his mother’s death and sings with a banjo in the prison barracks, Plastic Jesus.
Woodward and Newman in 1959, after being married for a year Photo: Getty Images
Of course, The Last Movie Stars also talks about movies. Woodward was the first actress to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, although for years her career was overshadowed by her husband’s brilliance. How important it was for Newman (half-Jewish) to appear in Exodus is underscored in the episodes screened at Cannes. Director Martin Ritt talks about an actor who was picky about scripts who knew what he was talking about: he worked with him and Woodward in The Long Hot Summer, and he directed Newman in Hud, the Wildest of a Thousand and One Men . His relationship with Robert Redford is also characterized by respect and affection. On screen, Newman admits in an old interview that it was Woodward who thought of Redford co-starring in Two Men and One Fate. His portrayal of the card game is praised, with Newman’s character apparently drunk at the start of The Heist.
Director Newman appears in these chapters, at least in his first three films: Rachel, Rachel (1968), Invincible Breed (1970), and The Effect of Gamma Ray on Daisies (1971). With that, Woodward won the Best Actress award at Cannes, a festival that used her kiss in Samantha (1963) – they made 11 films together – for the poster for that issue in 2013.
Cannes Poster 2013.
The effect of gamma rays on the daisies caused tension in the marriage, as Woodward hated the character and even more that one of his daughters would be portrayed on screen, Newman decided, by his own daughter Nell. It’s also years of the actor’s alcoholism, born of fear and doubt, and the couple’s daughters are open about it. Therefore, the fourth episode is entitled Paying the Price. Hawke, who insists on vindicating Woodward, who is almost unknown to today’s moviegoers. He couldn’t speak to her because he has Alzheimer’s.
Over the years, Newman, a Democrat, became increasingly politically involved (his daughters define him more as a liberal, i.e. personally conservative and socially more left-leaning) until he became Nixon’s 19th enemy – of whom he was proud – and an activist alongside Woodward opposed the Vietnam War, as evidenced by his involvement in Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign, and so he embraced Rosenberg’s A Man of Today (WUSA), about the rise of a far-right radio host. A cinematic disaster, although as the screen says “if you want to crash, crash like an animal”.
Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, in an image from the documentary The Last Movie Stars.
Last night Hawke ended his presentation with a great message: “Exploring Woodward and Newman through their love story has proved more rewarding than I anticipated. Her interpretive work, philanthropy and personal life serve as a kind of polar star, a guide to what meaningful life can be.”