18 September 2005 | marcin_kukuczka
Wonderful tribute to one of the most magnificent actresses ever, Greta Garbo
"One of the most celebrated people in the world
desperate not to be recognized..."
The very beginning of the latest documentary about Garbo that was released on TCM just before her 100th birthday calls viewers' attention to the personality of this great actress. To understand her more profoundly, the director of the documentary, Kevin Brownlow, aims at detailed exploration of Garbo's life, her wonderful but short screen career as well as her later lonely life. Furthermore, the whole movie is supplied with wonderful music by Carl Davies. I have asked my American friends to copy this film from TCM for me and I do not regret. Having seen Steve Cole's GRETA GARBO-A LONE STAR and some of the other minor documentaries, I must admit that GARBO is the best made biographical film about the Swedish beauty so far.
The whole documentary is not sensational but rather aims at presenting Garbo as someone full of contradictions and melancholies. Among a lot of interviews with the people in the film, I particularly liked the one with Mimi Pollak, Garbo's friend from youth, Gray Reisfield, Garbo's niece, Derek and Scott Reisfield, Garbo's great-nephews, and Sam Green, Garbo's companion during later years of her life. They wonderfully managed to get the gist of who Garbo really was - a Swede with Swedish upbringing brought at the age of 20 to a totally different world - Hollywood. She was gentle, humorous, and very independent. Daniel Selznick, the grandson of Louis B. Mayer mentions the fact that Garbo could never adapt to the life and manners promoted within MGM family. Joseph Newman recalls the day on which Garbo first arrived in Hollywood and mentions the difficulties she had to cope with. As a result, we do not get a "glorified picture" of how well everything went but a very realistic look at Garbo's experience abroad. Near the end of the documentary, the viewers are showed the most private thing from Garbo's life, her huge New York apartment with a number of antiques and lovely works of art that she gathered while traveling with friends.
The documentary is also supplied with a wide range of original archives. While watching the film, I could not believe my eyes what a wonderful use TCM producers made of these materials and how perfectly they fit to the documentary. From a number of Garbo's pictures taken in Sweden before 1925, you will see plenty of footages with Irving Thalberg, Mauritz Stiller, George Cukor as well as clips from all of the movies Garbo made in America and earlier in Europe. A lot of people mention the cinematographer, William H. Daniels, who made a perfect use of lighting and beautifully photographed Garbo. But the interest reaches its peak when Clarence Brown appears on screen in the 1969 interview footage and comments on the movies and Garbo's intuitive abilities of acting. He was Garbo's favorite director and cast her in 7 of his films. While he comments, we see footages from his films, particularly FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926) and A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928) where Garbo played by the side of the greatest love of her life, John Gilbert. Therefore, the archives that you will see in GARBO are hard or even impossible to find elsewhere. I was totally amazed.
Except for aforementioned factors, the documentary is worth seeing thanks to a lot of interesting facts postulated by various people interviewed. Barry Paris, Garbo's biographer, creates a link between Garbo and the audiences of that time; Daniel Selznick concentrates on Garbo - MGM relations; Leatrice Fountain, John Gilbert's daughter, says a lot about Garbo-Gilbert love; actor James Karen refers to the wide and ambiguous presentation of human psyche that Garbo created in her films, which was not that popular among all people. Yet, Mark Vieira, a photographer, recalls Garbo's friend Salka Viertel and her impact on Garbo's films, particularly German version of ANNA Christie and Mamoulian's QUEEN Christina.
If that is not enough, the end of the documentary will absolutely surprise you... It shows the last professional footage of Garbo that was taken in 1949, 8 years after she retired from screen. Although she looks gorgeous in it, the studio did not want her any longer. The footage became known as late as after her 1990 death. What governed the decision to let down the greatest cinema star remains undiscovered...
The TCM production, GARBO, is a magnificent biography that makes a tribute to Greta Garbo, probably one of the very few actresses that a lot of viewers of the 21st century still admire and appreciate... an actress that was born to play. It is, if not a must see, a highly recommended documentary for all open minded people. 10/10!