That Summer (3 stars)

That Summer

Göran Olsson presents a companion piece to the classic Grey Gardens, using unearthed footage of the legendary Beales

For those fascinated by the Maysles brothers' classic 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, a portrait of the eccentric, impoverished socialites Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, this is a Beale-apalooza. It is even a prequel of sorts. In 1972, socialite Lee Radziwill, younger sister of Jackie Kennedy, and Peter Beard – a New York aristocrat who was rich, handsome, a noted artist, photographer, writer and chum of other creative types – planned to make a documentary about the ways rapid development was changing that cultured and secluded bastion of old money and artists, East Hampton, Long Island.

This involved visits to Radziwill's relatives the Beales (her aunt and cousin). It became obvious that the Beales were the real story, and Radziwill and Beard and the crew they engaged – a couple of brothers who happened to be Albert and David Maysles – shot four reels of film at derelict mansion Grey Gardens before ultimately abandoning the East Hampton project.

The footage was presumed lost for 45 years and director Göran Olsson presents it as a shapeless string of vignettes of the Beales being their odd, sad, delusional, funny, feisty selves, while Radziwill gets sister Jackie to get then-husband Aristotle Onassis to pay for the clean-up and repairs.

The tone is more affectionate than that of Grey Gardens, Radziwill is loving and kind to her bickering kin, hangs on recollections of her roguish father 'Black' Jack Bouvier, and laments that Edie, a Harvard graduate, was full of promise before being 'locked up' by her mother to be her companion. There is an unforgettable, almost unbearably poignant moment of Edie, slathered in make-up for the camera, sitting in what she cheerfully calls her 'disappointment chair'.

No doubt this has its place in what is a veritable Beales franchise. The Maysles returned to make their own film, which of course became a celebrated cult work, and that led to a follow-up documentary, a Broadway musical in 2006, and an HBO movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore in 2009. But, without a directorial eye or voice evident here, the women's flights of fancy are frankly wearing.

And four reels do not a feature-length film make. So the footage of Grey Gardens is wedded to an all-too-brief interview Sofia Coppola recorded with Lee Radziwill in 2013, while it is bookended with a Peter Beard interview. During his reminiscences, we glimpse some of Beard's photo-diary collages and books and his home movies from his East Hampton retreat, in which we see him disporting on the beach with friends including Andy Warhol, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Truman Capote and various Kennedys and Radziwills. Now that was the movie we really would have liked to have seen.

Limited release from Fri 1 Jun.

That Summer

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • Sweden
  • Directed by: Göran Olsson
  • Cast: Peter Beard, William Vanden Heuvel, Paul Morrissey

Prequel of sorts to the Maysles Brothers’ 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, which portrayed the eccentric socialities Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie; this consists of earlier footage shot by the Maysles for a an abandoned 1972 documentary. The Beales are odd and touching, but it’s a shapeless string of vignettes…