That Summer

 

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More footage emerges from Grey Gardens to excite fans of the 1975 documentary.

 
That Summer

 

In the 1970s, Grey Gardens on Long Island was the home of an eccentric mother and daughter: Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale known as 'Big Edie' and her daughter also named Edith and therefore referred to as 'Little Edie'.  In 1973 the Maysles Brothers shot a film about them which appeared in 1975 and this piece, named after their house, went on to become one of the few documentaries to gain recognition as a cult classic. That fact has always surprised me because, odd though they were, the Beales living in reclusive isolation in an insanitary house with eight cats did not seem so compelling that the sad revelation of their lives was material for a feature film that would be long remembered. That it was made at all and that it aroused such interest was probably triggered initially by the fact that the two women were respectively an aunt and a cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

 

Whatever the reason, the Beales have in the present century gone on to be the subject of a stage play, a musical, a film dramatisation and a further documentary by the Maysles Brothers. And now we have something even more unexpected in that That Summer is a new documentary incorporating four reels of film shot on Long Island in 1972, this footage having long been thought lost. The original project had been encouraged by the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill, who appears in it and it was mainly put in hand by the photographer Peter Beard now featured in new footage providing a prologue and an epilogue. Although he had intended initially to make a film about East Hampton and the changes that were overtaking it in the 1970s, most of his material featured the Beales and their house and it is now shown undoctored other than for the very occasional addition of a voice over.

 

The Beales certainly lived life on their own very individual terms but, unlike other fascinating women possessed of a degree of  eccentricity such as Dame Edith Sitwell and Stevie Smith who lived with her aunt in Palmers Green, these were not people with something to offer the world. Closely bonded in a chaotic home and living largely in the past, they were nevertheless acerbic to each other so that they even prompt thoughts of the fictional world of Steptoe and Son. They appear to welcome the camera, and nothing emerges here as to why the 1972 project was abandoned regardless of the fact that the filming of what would become Grey Gardens began in the following year. Those who adore that film will embrace That Summer for offering, in effect, more of the same. Those who regard the Beales as authentic oddities but no more than that will be considerably less keen. Few films earn a response so closely geared to what individual viewers bring to the table.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Peter Beard, Lee Radziwill, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith Bouvier Beale, Andy Warhol.

 

Dir Göran Hugo Olsson, Pro Joslyn Barnes, Tobias Janson, Nejma Beard and Signe Byrge Sørensen, based on footage directed by Peter Beard, Jonas Mekas and Andy Warhol, Additional Ph Albert Maysles and Vincent Fremont, Ed Per K. Kirkegaard and Göran Hugo Olsson, Music Goran Kajfes.

 

Thunderbolt Ranch/Louverture Films/Final Cut for Real/Dogwoof/Cinetic Media-Dogwoof.
80 mins. USA/Sweden/Denmark/Finland/UK. 2017. Rel: 1 June 2018. Cert. PG.