Monday, March 23, 2015

TCM's Albert Maysles tribute

I mentioned that documentary film director Albert Maysles died earlier this month. TCM will be running a tribute to Maysles with four of the films that he and his brother David made.

First, at 8:00 PM, is Grey Gardens;
At 10:00 PM you can catch Salesman, a documentary about door-to-door bible salesmen and the pressures faced by them, and the people to whom they're trying to sell the bibles too.
11:45 PM sees Gimme Shelter, a look at the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the United States, culminating in the disastrous free concert at Altamont, when Hell's Angels members were brought in to provide security and the result was that several people died.
Finally, at 1:30 AM, you can see Meet Marlon Brando, a look at a bunch of journalists interviewing Brando around 1966.

Grey Gardens deserves a full post, and if I had the time to do a full post I would. The story starts off around 1971, when an item hit the news about one of those mansions out in the Hamptons to which all the rich people decamped in the summer as you can see in those old movies from the 1930s. Apparently, the elderly mother and her daughter living their were in conditions so squalid that the house was in serious violation of the building code. That's not particularly a big news story, even if it was one of those big mansions. The only thing was, however, that the mother and daghter were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She helped her relatives out in dealing with the problems at the home, and the notoriety of the story must have come to the attention of the Maysles brothers, because they made this movie about the two, their house, and their relationship.

Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter "Little Edie" have a relationship that's at times surreal, at times symbiotic if far from optimal, and at times extremely difficult for Little Edie. Little Edie feels as though Mom screwed up her chance at love back in the 1930s, and that that has something to do with why she's become a spinster, taking care of an elderly mother. Meanwhile, the house is continuing to fall down around them as there are stray cats constantly coming to eat, and who knows what wildlife in the attic. Mother and daughter generally eat not in the kitchen, but wherever, which is usually the bedroom. The only other person who seems to have remained in their lives is a handyman.

It's a movie that is sometimes sad, when you think about how lovely the house must have been back in the 1930s. There's also the frustration when mother and daughter start arguing with each other, because those are times when you start to dislike the two women and just want to shake some sense into them or something. And then there are scenes which seem exploitative, as though the Maysles were delibertely trying to make the Beales seem not just odd and dysfunctional, but even beyond freaks.

Grey Gardens gained a renaissance when it was made into a TV movie, and even a Broadway musical. But this is the original documentary, and worth a watch.

No comments: