'Grey Gardens' Adds Extra Footage on DVD The 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, made by the Maysles brothers, is being re-issued on DVD with an extra hour of footage. The controversial film peers into the scattered and reclusive lives of two of Jackie Onassis' cousins. The women lived in a decrepit East Hampton mansion.
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'Grey Gardens' Adds Extra Footage on DVD

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'Grey Gardens' Adds Extra Footage on DVD

'Grey Gardens' Adds Extra Footage on DVD

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Grey Gardens is a classic documentary that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The film is both loved and hated for its depiction of an eccentric mother and daughter living in a rundown mansion. Grey Gardens still plays in theatres and is taught in college classes.

A musical based on the documentary opens on Broadway next month. A fiction film is in the works, and now one of the men who made the original has assembled footage he didn't use 30 years ago into a new documentary called The Beales of Grey Gardens.

Howie Movshovitz of Colorado Public Radio reports.

HOWIE MOVSHOVITZ: Grey Gardens turns its camera on 80-year-old Edith Beale, Sr., and her 60-year-old daughter, Edie, Jr.

(Soundbite of movie, Grey Gardens)

Ms. EDITH BEALE, JR.: Papa didn't want me to have anybody that was decent.

Ms. EDITH BEALE, SR.: I didn't want anybody in the kitchen.

Ms. BEALE, JR.: Would've been perfectly all right for me to marry Tom Logan(ph)...

Ms. BEALE, SR.: Why'd you want to marry a kid, 32? He's...

Ms. BEALE, JR.: Oh, I forgot to say that you didn't have his account...

Ms. BEALE, SR.: (Unintelligible) genes.

Ms. BEALE, JR.: I would've been Countess Edith.

Ms. BEALE, SR.: I didn't want my child to be taken away. I'd be entirely alone.

Ms. KIRSTEN JOHNSON (Cinematographer): The review that came out when the film first came out said that there was sort of no doubt that the filmmakers loved their subjects and were sincere in what they were doing, but that the film made the viewer feel part of some kind of carnival attention to these willing but vulnerable people.

MOVSHOVITZ: Kirsten Johnson, a noted documentary cinematographer, was 10 years old when Grey Gardens came out, yet she's quick to describe one part of its appeal: the often outlandish Edie Jr.

Ms. JOHNSON: Little Edie just makes these entrances. You know, she sort of comes out onto the porch with this flair. And, you know, she's always wearing these incredible headscarves and sweaters, skirts and wearing a bathing suit with pantyhose and high heels.

And she manages to make the absurd look like it's the most stylish thing going. And it's just fun to see what she comes up with next. Her sense of color is fantastic, too.

(Soundbite of movie, Grey Gardens)

Ms. BEALE, JR.: This is the best thing to wear for the day. You understand. Because I don't like women in skirts, and the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt, I think. Then you have the pants under the skirt, and then you can pull the stockings up over the pants underneath the skirt. And you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for the day.

MOVSHOVITZ: Grey Gardens was made by Albert and David Maysles. A relative of the Beales introduced them to the filmmakers. Edie Sr. was a Bouvier like her niece, Jackie Kennedy. But by the time the Maysles brothers met the Beales, Edie Sr. had been abandoned by her husband and she and her daughter were living in squalor in a rotting mansion in the Hamptons.

The New York papers covered their plight and Albert Maysles said the film could easily have become a lured exposé.

Mr. ALBERT MAYSLES (Director, Grey Gardens): It was recluses living in a haunted house. There were a lot of secrets that might be interesting, and it was just two of them. And once we started filming, oh my goodness, it was just so rich in just about everything. The most profound human relationship, the mother-daughter relationship, and this was that in spades.

MOVSHOVITZ: But for some, the emotional nakedness of the Beales on camera brings up ethical questions. Kirsten Johnson isn't sure the two women understood what the filmmakers were doing.

Ms. JOHNSON: I feel like they are living in their own private world and the Maysles went into that private world. And I think you definitely get the sense that the Beales don't necessarily have a completely lucid understanding about how the outside world is going to relate to their inside world.

(Soundbite of movie, Grey Gardens)

Ms. BEALE, SR.: Are you taking pictures?

Mr. MAYSLES: Always.

MOVSHOVITZ: Albert Maysles has heard the criticisms and he understands that the Beales are an unusual sight on a movie screen. He calls the original Grey Gardens and the new, The Beales of Grey Gardens, Rorschach tests. He says that viewers will see in the films what they want.

Mr. MAYSLES: It's not enough to make me think, well, I shouldn't have made the film or something like that. What I am inclined to do is to give them enough information so that they can make an understanding of what's going on. And in that process of understanding really who these people are, I think they will tend to get to like them and to love them the way I did.

MOVSHOVITZ: Albert Maysles originally trained and worked as a psychologist, which certainly helps him as a filmmaker observing human behavior. Albert worked the camera and his brother David, who died in 1987, recorded the sound on such acclaimed documentaries as Salesman, about the struggles of traveling Bible salesman, and Gimme Shelter, about the Rolling Stones' notorious Altamonte concert.

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson says Albert Maysles sees through his camera that many others would miss.

Ms. JOHNSON: I think he shows these moments. Like there's a moment where Big Edie passes the mirror to Little Edie, and it's just one hand stretching from one bed to the other. Almost this sort of God and Adam moment of both hands reaching for the mirror, and he's in that shot in a close-up. And, no, a lot of people wouldn't have seen it that way.

(Soundbite of movie, Grey Gardens)

Ms. BEALE, JR.: Would you pass your mirror over here? I've got to see what I look like.

Ms. BEALE, SR.: Don't drop it.

MOVSHOVITZ: Kirsten Johnson also mentions a shot in the new film, The Beales of Grey Gardens.

Ms. JOHNSON: Little Edie stares at the camera after having said, like, maybe I should change again, maybe I should put on another outfit, because I'll never have a man look like this at me again. And then she just stares into the camera and you really get this sense that whatever's happening between her and Albert's gaze is really quite powerful.

Ms. BEALE, JR.: ...the footage you've got on this.

Ms. BEALE, SR.: Tell Susan that our first...

Ms. BEALE, JR.: I don't think I'm doing it justice, the whole thing.

Ms. BEALE, SR.: Don't forget, darling.

Mr. MAYSLES: I won't forget, I promise.

Ms. BEALE, JR.: I think I better take a bath tonight and get out a lot of clothes. Really make a big thing. I really do. I'll never have a man look at me again like this.

MOVSHOVITZ: That connection between filmmakers and subjects may be the reason the Beales have kept their powerful hold on audiences. But Albert Maysles says Edie Sr. and Edie Jr. were also a tough pair.

Mr. MAYSLES: As the daughter says in the film, they're staunch characters, and I don't think they needed any kind of overprotection from us. They can stand on their own ground. On the other hand, if you don't care to respect the people you're filming, then you can exploit them. But we had a genuine fondness for these people and wanted to get it exactly right. We thought that everyone deserves that when you film them.

MOVSHOVITZ: Albert Maysles is 80 years old and still making films the same way. But he can only hope that he upcoming Broadway musical and the Hollywood movie based on Grey Gardens will share his love and respect for the Beales.

For NPR News, I'm Howie Movshovitz.

MONTAGNE: And if you'd like to hear excerpts from the musical based on Grey Gardens, called Around the World, go to npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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