In the land of legends, being a legend is hard. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward meant everything in Hollywood: beautiful, talented, passionate, and united. More than 50 years of marriage and an unbeatable brand to date in the cinema mecca. That’s why the documentary directed by Ethan Hawke, The Last Movie Stars has relevance in days like today.
People like to say that “Hollywood loves a love story”, but we all do. When the couple is stars – beautiful and successful – it’s a fairy tale in the real world. From Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or later Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, couples who fall in love on screen and that we witness the moment they do. At this level, the unshakable union (apparently) of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward stood out: from the moment they emerged, young and in love, they maintained a firm marriage until Paul’s death in 2008. A legend among legends.
How does Ethan Hawke enter the picture? As a child, he studied with the couple’s youngest daughter, and, in 2020, he was asked if he would like to look at unpublished material by her father. It’s just that in the 1980s, Paul Newman came to work on a biography, but he changed his mind and burned ALL the interviews done, so as not to leave material lying around for third parties. What did he forget? Burning the transcripts, the exact material that is the basis of the HBO Max documentary.
It would be easy to use photos and videos and a traditional narration, but the actor thought outside the box. He held a mini event with friends (all famous) and brilliant actors “gave voices” to the transitions, modernizing the narrative while remaining faithful to the interviewees. Amazing!
And the documentary is not protected from truths. Many believed in the perfect marriage, but although lasting, it had its ups and downs. Starting with the first episode, which shows how the two met when Paul was still married but still couldn’t avoid a romance. Only 5 years later they made the union official after Paul left his first wife and three children to join Joanne. Each episode explores a different decade in the stars’ lives, including when they both reached the height of stardom in the 1960s, as well as when Joanne – initially the more respected of the two, with an Oscar and a lot of accolades – began to lose her lead roles when he aged, as Paul became the more famous of the two. It is not exempt from the tragic drama of the loss of Paul’s first-born son, Scott, who died in 1978, just as he didn’t win the coveted Oscar until much later in his life.
Paul died in 2008 after secretly battling cancer and Joanne, who is still alive at 92 but dealing with Alzheimer’s. It’s exciting, it’s inspiring. A legend revisited, but still strong and exemplary. Worth checking out.