Although Cary Grant is one of the most famous Hollywood stars of all time, not many people may know that he was born in Bristol, England, in 1904, as Archibald Leach. His mother disappeared without explanation when he was a child, and his father abandoned him to start another family in another town. This left him vulnerable, insecure, and with trust issues.
He was able to escape his early troubles by entering the world of vaudeville. This led him to Broadway and, subsequently, Hollywood. Finally changing his name to Cary Grant, he developed a confident and distinctive persona, also thanks to some of the top directors he worked with throughout his career, that led him from being a handsome supporting player to one of the greatest leading men of his time, and allowed him to hide his fears behind a well-constructed mask.
Both the man and the mask are examined in Mark Kidel’s documentary Becoming Cary Grant, which is largely structured from the actor’s unpublished autobiography; some of its excerpts are read by Jonathan Pryce. The film also looks at Grant’s use of LSD to deal with psychological problems. This influences the overall style of the film; drowsy and impressionistic rather than being dominated by facts and representing a standard type of biographical documentary.
The film features scenes from some of Grant’s best-known works, including Bringing Up Baby, To Catch a Thief, and The Awful Truth, as well as his lesser known ones. Kidel edits these together with never before seen home movies shot by Grant himself. These, the director asserts, show that Grant had a director’s eye; while this may be a daring assertion, they certainly contribute greatly to a legitimate visual representation of both the man and the actor, and chronicle both his artistic and personal evolution.
Becoming Cary Grant may not be the best documentary for those who know little about Cary Grant. It is, however, ambitious in nature, and surprisingly creative. More than listing facts in chronological order, Kidel attempts to capture an essence of the actor’s existence, both in content and form. In doing so, he doesn’t tell the story of a Hollywood legend: he humanizes him. – ★★★★
BECOMING CARY GRANT | 2017, France | Documentary | Directed by – Mark Kidel / Produced by – Christian J. Popp, Nick Ware / Written by – Mark Kidel, Nick Ware / Music by – Bob Locke, Tim Norfolk, Adrian Utley / Cinematography – Jean-Marie Delorme / Editing by – Cyril Leuthy / Starring – Jonathan Pryce | Running time: 85 mins.