Release Date(s)2017 (September 11, 2018)
Studio(s)Story AB/Louverture Films/Final Cut for Real/Sundance Selects (IFC Independent Film)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D
In the landmark 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, Albert and David Maysles provided a memorable portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ eccentric relatives – elderly aunt Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and Edie’s middle-aged daughter Edie Bouvier Beale (Little Edie) – who lived together in a crumbling mansion in East Hampton, Long Island. That documentary grew out of Albert Maysles’ involvement with a previous project concerning the two Edies.
That Summer contains 44 minutes of raw footage from that project, shot in the summer of 1972. Lee Radziwell, Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ sister, and writer-photographer Peter Beard joined forces to film a documentary about the gentrification of the Hamptons and Radziwell’s time spent there as a child. At the same time, because of a threat by Suffolk County health inspectors to evict the Beales from their neglected home, Radziwell hired workers to clean up the squalor and decay and restore its broken water and power sources. During the clean-up, funded by Aristotle Onassis, a film crew shot the four 16-millimeter reels of the Beales that form the basis of That Summer.
Beard and Radziwell ultimately abandoned the original project, for reasons not made clear. The Maysles, however, intrigued by Big Edie and Little Edie, would return a few years later to shoot their own film.
That Summer combines the unedited footage with additional home movies of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Paul Morrissey, and Jackie and Aristotle Onassis. Director Goran Hugo Olsson combines the Beale footage with several new elements: scenes of the now elderly Beard reminiscing as he thumbs through a book of his photographs, those celebrity home movies, rambling commentary, and excerpts from a 2013 interview with the 85-year-old Lee Radziwell conducted by Sofia Coppola.
Since the 44 minutes alone weren’t enough to make a feature documentary, Olsson had to pad to get the running time to a still-brief 80 minutes. The Beard footage drags and appears as what it is – filler. By using unedited footage, the director doesn’t apply a point of view other than presenting the film as a cinematic curiosity.
The Beales are what you’d expect if you’ve seen Grey Gardens. They still seem to come alive when the cameras are rolling, even performing. Turbaned Little Edie flounces about, sings a bizarre tune called My Adobe Hacienda, claims that her blind cat looks like Ted Kennedy, and bickers with her mother. Big Edie sits in an easy chair singing opera in her bedroom, watches raccoons that have taken up residence in the house and scamper in and out of the roof, and offers fashion suggestions to her daughter. When these women are on, it’s impossible not to be glued to the screen. Otherwise the film rambles, with some high points but lots of dull, repetitive stretches.
Rediscovered after 40 years, the Beale footage sheds no new light on the two eccentric women. Still, fans of Grey Gardens might want to check out This Summer as a sort of prequel.
Picture quality on That Summer varies considerably, since the film is composed of very old 16-millimeter color film, shaky black-and-white home movies, and new pristine quality color video. The indoor Beale footage is especially grainy and has a bluish tint. Outdoor scenes are sharper. The Dolby Audio soundtrack is crisp for the modern footage but echoey for interiors of the Beale scenes. The only bonus extra on the unrated widescreen DVD release is a theatrical trailer.
- Dennis Seuling