Grey Gardens (1975) A+ to Feud (2024) A+. The Maysles Brothers.

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Big Edie Bouvier in “Grey Gardens”

The film “Grey Gardens” tells the story of Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier, the aunt and cousin of former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. When the brothers Albert and David Maysles discovered them in the early seventies, Big Edie, who was almost eighty at the time, and Little Edie, who was 56, appeared to be stuck in another era, holding onto their aristocratic past while living in a crumbling house and caring for numerous cats and raccoons.

The Maysles were already famous for their unique style of filmmaking, which they had used in such classics as “Salesman” (1969) and “Gimme Sheler” (1970), where, at The Rolling Stones Altamont Free Concert, they unexpectedly captured on film the altercation between Altamont attendee Meredith Hunter and Hells Angel Alan Passaro that resulted in Hunter’s death. Film footage shows Hunter drawing and pointing a revolver just before being stabbed by Passaro, who was later acquitted of Hunter’s murder on self-defense grounds after the jury viewed the footage. They christened their style Direct Cinema, a type of cinéma vérité with no directorial interference, although some critics, such as Pauline Kael, accused them of staging and more!

Grey Gardens

The filmmakers gained Big Edie’s and Little Edie’s trust and filmed at Grey Gardens for several weeks. They and their co-directors, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, then carefully edited their footage to create a remarkable documentary that captured the essence of the women and their unique lifestyles. After its release, the film’s high campness – a tragic story set in the faded milieu of New York high society and some deliciously bitchy one-liners between mother and daughter – developed a significant gay following. Little Edie had a unique fashion sense, particularly with her head scarves, and, over time, some gay fashion designers credited her as an inspiration for their work. She was also a wanna-be cabaret artist, and after her mother’s death, she did achieve her goal of signing in some of Manhattan’s top Cabaret venues, mainly to the gay audiences who had grown to love her over the years since the film’s release.

The documentary received a Criterion Collection DVD release in 2001, where it is now available for screening. By the turn of the century, it had become a definitive gay cult classic, inspiring songs such as Rufus Wainright’s “Grey Gardens.” In 2006, the film was adapted into a musical play by three gay men: Doug Wright, Scott Frankel, and Michael Korie. In 2009, it was adapted into a highly successful TV movie by gay writer/directors Michael Sucsy and Patricia Rozema. It starred Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as Big and Little Edie, respectively; Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy; Ayre Gross and Justin Lewis as Albert and Maysles.

Feud: Capote vs Swans

The Maysles brothers have returned in high style, thanks to the conceit behind the third episode, “Masquerade 1966,” of Ryan Murphy’s tremendous new limited series “Feud: Capote vs the Swans.” Written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Gus Van Sant, the episode brilliantly interweaves the footage the brothers filmed (with Charlotte Zwerin) for their documentary “With Love from Truman” in which Truman Capote, having just published his masterpiece, “In Cold Blood,” has reinterred New York society and is sorting the invitations (who is in and who is out) to his famous 1966 Masked Ball at the Plaza Hotel. In what has to be some of the most mesmerizing moments in television history, the entire episode – apart from the closing moments, when Truman (the excellent Tom Hollander) dances with the ghost of his dead mother (Murphy’s muse, the incredible Jessica Lang back after playing Joan Crawford in “Feud: Bette and Joan”) while The Swans – Babe Paley (Naomi Watts), Slim Keith (Diane Lane), C. Z. Guest (Chloe Sevigny) and Lee Radziwell (Calista Flockhart) look on – is shown as part of the brothers’ “footage” giving The Swans ample time to bitch and moan about Truman.

Albert and David Maysles

Albert and David Maysles

Pawel Szajda plays Albert and Yuval David plays David. There is a scene where Truman flirts outrageously with Albert in the back seat of a car and another where Truman and Albert slow dance in Truman’s living room. It’s during this scene that Albert quotes Saint Theresa of Avilla: “More tears are shed over Answered Prayers than unanswered ones,” giving Truman the title of his new book on New York society that he would never publish – apart from the articles in Esquire Magazine in 1975 in which he betrayed the trust of The Swans and for which Paley and Keith never forgave him. David Maysles died from a brain hemorrhage at age 55 in 1987. Albert died at age 88 in 2015.

GREY GARDENS, THE DOCUMENTARY BY ALBERT AND DAVID MATSLES, IS NOW STREAMING ON AMAZON PRIME, APPLE TV+, YOUTUBE and THE CRITERION COLLECTION

GREY GARDENS, THE TV MOVIE, IS NOW STREAMING ON AMAZON PRIME, APPLE TV+ AND YOUTUBE THROUGH MAX.

FEUD: CAPOTE VS. SWANS IS CURRENTLY STREAMING ON HULU (FX)

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