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Mother and daughter - Big Edie and Little Edie Beale - live with six cats in a crumbling house in East Hampton. Little Edie, in her 50s, who wears scarves and bright colors, sings, mugs for the camera, and talks to Al and David Maysles, the filmmakers. Big Edie, in her 70s, recites poetry, comments on her daughter's behavior, and sings "If I Loved You" in fine voice. She talks in short sentences; her daughter in volumes. The film is episodic: friends visit, there's a small fire in the house, Little Edie goes to the shore and swims. She talks about the Catholic Church. She's ashamed that local authorities raided the house because of all the cats. She values being different.Written by
We saw the Canadian premiere screening of "The Beales of Grey Gardens" on the afternoon of Monday Sept. 11, 2006 at the Al Green Theatre during the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Also on the program was Albert Maysles' very first film, "Psychiatry In Russia" from 1955, in what may have been its World Premiere screening in a theatre, as it had previously only been shown on American Public TV as far as Maysles himself could remember. Albert Maysles was introduced briefly at the start by TIFF programmer Nicholas Davies and was interviewed at the end by fellow director Barbara Kopple (dir. "Harlan County USA", "Dixie Chicks -Shut Up And Sing") and answered several questions from the audience.
"The Beales of Grey Gardens" is an entirely new film that has been assembled from the extra footage that Albert Maysles (camera) shot with his brother David Maysles (sound) in 1972-74 for the film released in 1975 called "Grey Gardens". Both films will be issued in a new 2 disc Criterion DVD set in December 2006. (You'll also be able to purchase them separately, in case you already have the 1st one.)
"Beales" does seem to be assembled on the assumption that anyone seeing it has already seen the original "Grey Gardens". There is no introduction or newspaper montage such as the first film has to give you any context or information about who these women are and why are they living in only a few rooms of a once imposing mansion that seems to be slowly going back to nature. Only late in the film there is a mention of Jackie Kennedy Onassis convincing her 2nd husband Ari (Aristotle Onassis) to help out the Beales with funding for renovations and upkeep of the Grey Gardens estate.
I felt overall that "Beales" perhaps showed more of a needy side to Little Edie that wasn't shown quite so overtly in the first film. Her flirtatious manner towards both of the Maysles brothers is more apparent and her questioning of their choice of the first film's title as "Grey Gardens" seems to hint at some disappointment that the film isn't titled after herself or her family, but rather the house (Maysles is obviously making up for this in the title of this 2nd film). The first film has more of a defiant pride where even the apparent desolate circumstances cannot undo her. Big Edie gives the same mother of all she surveys portrayal in both films.
The afternoon was even more enhanced by getting a chance to hear Albert Maysles tell anecdotes about the film and just speak in general about life and documentary film. Barbara Kopple did try to direct questions his way but it seemed that Maysles was simply more interested in getting certain views out and he actually seemed to be ignoring what he was asked and just using it as a springboard to carry on telling us a continuing story. Kopple wasn't in the least offended by this and seemed to be quite happy just to be there to act as a prompter for Maysles.
Among the tidbits that came out from Maysles was a quote of Little Edie's reaction after the Beales were given a private screening of the first film: "The Maysles have created a masterpiece!", and that Albert Maysles had recently re-connected with the neighbour's gardener Jerry Torres who as a young man was a frequent guest to Grey Gardens and who appears in both films and now drives a cab in New York City. Maysles also had some impassioned things to say about how documentary film was important in the world as a means to promote our understanding of each other and to act as a deterrent to anger and hate. An interesting comment made about the Beales but also about people in general was that "People want to tell the truth about themselves. They don't like to keep secrets".
All in all a great afternoon of documentary film. Kudos to TIFF for organizing it.
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