Amazing Stories 1.12: Vanessa In the Garden (1985)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Steven Spielberg
Produced by David E. Vogel
24 minutes 40 seconds
After directing four of the biggest box office successes of all time within a 10-year time frame, Steven Spielberg was a brand name that NBC felt confident committing 44 half-hours of prime time to with an anthology TV series titled Amazing Stories. Unlike The Twilight Zone — which CBS resurrected in 1985 — Spielberg intended his tales to be more wondrous than weird, magical instead of macabre (Stephen King need not apply). Spielberg co-wrote and directed the first episode Ghost Train, but neither critics nor Nielsen families were very amazed and after two seasons, the pricey show (roughly $1 million per episode) was dimmed out. What was intriguing about Amazing Stories while it lasted were the directors Spielberg invited to play with him in TV Land, which in Season 1 included Peter Hyams, Joe Dante and Martin Scorsese. A filmmaker who delivered memorable results was Clint Eastwood.
Vanessa In the Garden suffers from the usual Amazing Stories ailments, offering less than the talent involved seemed capable (the best episode was the animated Family Dog directed by Brad Bird in Season 2). The premise of a grieving artist who receives inspiration from his recently deceased wife was a good enough idea, but the resulting sketch is neither eerie nor romantic, with Harvey Keitel and Sondra Locke miscast as lovers and Spielberg insisting on marooning adult characters squarely in Fantasyland. That said, Eastwood eschews the manic pace and special effects orientation most of the directors embraced for the show and turns in a leisurely paced, thoughtful and pastoral piece that channels a Merchant Ivory production into prime time. Lennie Niehaus composed the elegant musical score, while Spielberg’s mom Leah Adler made a rare cameo for the art gallery scene.
Somewhere in America of the 1920s, painter Byron Sullivan (Harvey Keitel) seems posed for major success in the art world, due to the efforts of his agent Teddy (Beau Bridges) but mostly his loyal wife and muse Vanessa (Sondra Locke), the subject of Byron’s work. At their country estate, Teddy announces that he has in fact secured an exhibition for his client and already taken commissions for half of his paintings. Bryon takes Vanessa out to lunch to celebrate, but on the carriage ride home, a bolt of lightning strikes down a tree, spooking the horse. In the crash that ensues, Vanessa is killed.
Bryon piles most of the paintings of his late wife into a bonfire, threatening his chances at an exhibition. Attempting to light a match to one last painting of his muse, the flame is mysteriously blown out. The following morning, Byron notices that Vanessa has disappeared from the painting. He then discovers her taking a stroll in the garden. When she jumps back onto canvas, Byron realizes he can restore his wife’s place by his side as long as he keeps painting her in his work. He soon has enough paintings to fill an exhibition, with a mysterious lady in black by his side.
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Metacritic “Metascore” average: Not available
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