By Cory Robinson
Out of all of the times I used to see commercials for reruns for Amazing Stories on either Fox Family or SyFy, the one I would see the most advertised for was Vanessa In The Garden and it’s easy to why. I mean the episode was written by Stephen Spielberg, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Harvey Keitel so it’s safe to say that the producers were planning to hit this one out of the park, but did they?
This episode has Keitel playing an impressionist painter in the 1800s named Byron Sullivan who is starting to make a name for himself due to putting his wife Vanessa (played by Sondra Locke) in every single one of his paintings. The episode begins with Byron finishing another one of his paintings while remising on their honeymoon exactly one year ago on the day before Vanessa reminds him that he has a meeting with his agent Theodore at his house to discuss some news he has about an upcoming art exhibition on Byron’s works. Theodore (played by Beau Bridges) brings up the fact that Vanessa is the best thing to happen to Byron due to him becoming more productive with his work and the fact that she acts as his muse, helping him create the best works of his career. While talking about his work, Theodore has fantastic news that Byron’s paintings will be on display at the Coleman Gallery which is considered to be a huge stepping stone for Byron and his career as a painter.
Byron of course is elated with the news and tells his wife Vanessa over dinner at a local restaurant to which she responds with that he deserves all the good fortune coming his way but Byron says that all the praise he gets in his works deserves to go to her due to the inspiration she gives him and that all that he ever will be is because of her. On the way home from dinner, a storm starts brewing but it doesn’t start to get serious until a lightning bolt hits a tree close to their position which in turn scares the horse enough to cause the carriage to topple over killing Vanessa in the process.
Byron escapes with little injury except his broken heart which makes him lose the inspiration to paint again. Theodore tells Byron that he will be okay after a couple of weeks but Byron tells Theodore that he doesn’t want to paint again and he doesn’t want to do the exhibition. Byron then spends the night getting so drunk and distraught that he starts burning all of the paintings in house because every time he looks at the paintings he can’t bear the thought of being without his wife Vanessa. The next day Theodore comes in with a doctor to check up on him and his furious at the fact that Byron burned all of his paintings and that he lost all of the buyers that wanted to buy his paintings. Theodore then yells at Byron to stop feeling sorry and pitiful but Byron says that he doesn’t have the passion to paint anymore since his wife has passed at that she took his gift with her when she died.
Byron now spends his time getting drunk and mourning the loss of Vanessa but after one night of binge drinking, he awakes to find that he still has one painting of her left and it was the last he painted before the accident. He starts to burn the painting but the fire keeps going out until Byron finally collapses on the ground yelling that he can’t live without his wife and begs for her to come back home. Byron then hears Vanessa humming from outside and when he looks out the window, he sees her but then looks at the painting and finds that Vanessa’s portrait is missing from the painting. Byron then tries to go outside but Vanessa from plain view and re-appears in the painting.
Of course Byron starts to believe he is going mad until he hears Vanessa laughing from the other room and goes to see her lying on the vanity until she disappears when he gets too close. Byron then realizes that she is recreating an old painting he did that still happens to be intact in the attic. He now realizes what he has to do and stars painting a portrait of his wife at their piano but also paints himself in the painting which finally gives him the opportunity to talk to his wife again. Byron still can’t believe that this is real but Vanessa says that what this is going on is real enough that he should accept this miracle that has happened to him. Byron that asks Vanessa to go to bed with him but before he can wisk her away, she disappears from his arms and then realizes that anywhere he has to be with Vanessa then he has to paint it. The episode ends with him painting hundreds of portraits of Vanessa and himself and ends up showing his work at the Coleman gallery and boasting that he doesn’t need money just his wife and that he can take her anywhere in the world as long as he can paint it.
This was a very touching episode and I really have to give a lot of credit to Spielberg on this one even though I heavily critiqued some of this other work on Amazing Stories, but the only problem I had with the script is that it felt too short and too rushed. If they made this episode in two parts then I think they could have told the whole story they wanted to tell. Even though I normally like the work by Clint Eastwood, I felt that his direction was very choppy in the beginning and the scene in with the carriage crash was put together really poorly and came across as very laughable with indications of a thunder storm but the skies were completely clear with a bad shot of a b-roll lightning shot that made it seem that it came out of nowhere. The concept of someone being alive in paintings is a novel concept but the fact that half of the episode had Harvey Keitel’s character going “Man my life is so great because of my wife, we are going to be happy forever” definitely tells the viewer that something very bad is going to happen to his wife and that we have to wait it out until it happens. The acting from Keitel seemed like he didn’t know what he wanted to do with the character so some moments it feels like he really isn’t trying, to giving a heart wrenching performance in others. Beau Bridges does an alright job as well but an English accent really isn’t his strong suit.
Overall this just came across as an okay episode. Even though the script was written well and the idea was very clever, the acting wasn’t the best except for Locke who does a pretty good job and the directing by Eastwood didn’t seem to be up to his standards. The episode seems rushed for most of the time and the ending just comes at the last minute with the feeling that the whole crew was under a tight schedule with little time for reshoots, which is a feeling that comes across a lot in this episode. It’s not the best Amazing Stories episode out there but it is far from being one of the worse and it’s still worth a watch if you have never seen it before.
X-aminer rating: 7/10
You can watch the episode here at the NBC Site: http://www.nbc.com/amazing-stories/video/vanessa-in-the-garden/2909103
Come back next week as I take a look at The Sitter starring a very young Seth Green.