Carrie Fisher was wary of being on display at the Telluride Film Festival in September, but she took strength from her ever-present dog Gary and came onstage after a showing of Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She wanted the documentary to be made as a tribute to her indomitable mother, whose health was failing; now it must serve as an epitaph for her and a tribute to her family. (It also played at the New York Film Festival and will appear on HBO early in 2017.)
Accompanied by her brother Todd and filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, she took to the stage at the Palm Theatre, where I moderated a question and answer session. She was flippant and funny, as usual; if she learned one thing from her mom it was never to disappoint an audience.
Everyone knows she was an actress, and aside from Star Wars appeared in everything from Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters to When Harry Met Sally and Scream 3. One area I wanted to explore was her career as a script doctor, punching up screenplays for big bucks but no credit. In the wake of Postcards from the Edge, based on her autobiographical novel, Steven Spielberg hired her to work on Hook, which she enjoyed. Then others came calling. Her specialty was expanding the love interest and/or adding laughs to such films as The River Wild, The Wedding Singer, Sister Act, and Lethal Weapon 3, among others. Then she mentioned the one that challenged her and interested me most, Outbreak, a serious film about an epidemic for which she added backstories and humor.
I sensed that this kind of work came easily to her; little else did in her turbulent life. She transformed her upbringing as the daughter of super-celebrities Debbie Reynolds and singing idol Eddie Fisher (who was a big star at the time) into fodder for her books and a one-woman stage show, Wishful Drinking. But in Bright Lights we get to see one facet of her talent she hid for most of her life: she had a beautiful singing voice. Debbie forced her onstage during a nightclub appearance when she was an adolescent and fortunately, someone captured this on film. Not singing was part of her rebellion. Debbie gets tearful on camera as she laments the fact that Carrie refused to make use of this glorious gift.
Star Wars gave her financial security, a multigenerational fan following, and a kind of immortality. But mortality took its toll on this talented, troubled woman today. I feel worst for Debbie Reynolds; no parent should have to bury a child, especially one who cared so much about her, in her own, stubborn, unique way.