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Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind | Review

This Property is Condemned: Bouzereau Recuperates an Icon with Familial Portrait

Laurent Bouzereau - Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind ReviewHer death by drowning at the age of forty-three while vacationing on Catalina Island would become one of the most notorious and shocking celebrity deaths ever, generating conspiracy theories and tabloid fodder which eventually usurped her four decades of work in film and television. She was the enduring icon Natalie Wood, and director Laurent Bouzereau, taking a break from the countless ‘making of’ documentaries, aims to resuscitate her cinematic contributions with Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, an intimate portrait of the star dictated and crafted with the assistance of her eldest daughter, actress Natasha Gregson Wagner.

Aficionados of Hollywood’s studio era will likely glean the most from this quiet portrait, which coaxes intimate details from several of her most notable friends and co-stars, including Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Mart Crowley, Robert Wagner and her children.

A brief familial portrait of her childhood, born of Russian immigrants who met and wed in San Francisco, is defined by her early entry in Hollywood as a child in the 1940s, wherein her pseudonym was crafted (the last name Wood an homage to producer Sam Wood) thanks to director Irving Pichel. Where Bouzereau mainly focuses is on her career in the 1950s and 60s, where an affair with director Nicholas Ray on Rebel Without a Cause (which scored her first of three Academy Award nominations) led to a string of high-profile titles, from All the Fine Young Cannibals, West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass and Gypsy, among others.

Natasha Gregson Wagner reads from a 1966 Ladies’ Home Journal article Wood penned which was never published, revealing more intimate details of Wood’s emotional frame of mind, which included her high-profile marriage and divorce to Wagner (later, archival footage of their eventual re-marriage is included).

Wood’s tragic demise is broached within the first thirty-five minutes, leaving surviving family members to relay their memories of her death and the ensuing media blitz surrounding it. With the case re-opened in 2011 thanks to a book published by Dennis Davern, who had been manning the boat, and Wood’s sister Lana’s media tour fostering the continual flames of potential foul play, the wounds have been re-opened for a new generation unfamiliar with the performer.

Though the documentary offers no definitive answers beyond her death being an unfortunate accident, What Remains Behind, though awkwardly titled, is a personal homage to her quiet magnitude. For something more comprehensive (and potentially objective) Suzanne Finstad has re-released and updated her 2001 biography Natasha, republished as Natalie Wood: The Complete Biography in 2020 to cover the re-opened investigation.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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