"One of the most celebrated people in the world, desperate not to be recognized...". This is how the latest documentary about the former actress Greta Garbo that was released in 2005, a week before her 100th birthday calls for viewers' attention to the personality of this great actress. I have myself not been such a great fan of documentary movies but being associated with the "Laadli" team, I have been forced to do my homework.
To understand her more profoundly, the director Kevin Brownlow aims at detailed exploration of Greta's life. Her wonderful but short screen career as well her later reclusive life. The whole movie is supplied with great instrumental music by Carl Davies. Having seen Steve Cole's version GRETA GARBO--THE LONE STAR and some of the other minor documentaries, I admit that GARBO is the best biographical film that captures the life and times of the Swedish beauty.
The documentary presents Greta as someone who is full of contradictions and melancholies. Among a lot of interviews with the people in the film, I particularly liked the one with Mimi Pollak, Greta's friend from youth, Gray Reisfield, Garbo's niece, Derek and Scott Reisfield, Greta's great-nephews and Sam Green, her companion during the later years of life. They delightfully manage to get the gist of who Greta Garbo really was--a Swede girl with a Swedish upbringing brought at the age of 20 to a totally different world named Hollywood. She was gentle, humorous, and very independent. Daniel Selznick, the grandson of Louis B. Mayer mentioned the fact that Greta was unhappy for most of the time unable to adapt to the life and manners promoted within MGM. Joseph Newman quoted that when she first arrived in Hollywood the difficulties she had to cope with. As a result, the documentary doesn't project "a glorified picture" of how well everything went but a very realistic look at Greta's experience abroad.
The documentary is also supplied with a wide range of original archives. From a number of Greta's private pictures taken in Sweden before 1925, one sees plenty of footages with Irving Thalberg, Mauritz Stiller, George Cukor as well clips from all the movies of Greta made in America and earlier in Europe. Clarence Brown appears with an interview and footage. The photographs and film clips speak for themselves, for Greta's tremendous beauty and unique acting ability. She was a totally intuitive actress.
It is a pity that, as she independent she was, that she took some bad advice, and a bigger pity that she never returned to the screen after 1941. A 1949 screen test shows her beauty untarnished, yet the producers were unable to raise money for the film they wanted to do, which devastated her. This is a wonderful documentary, highly recommended.