The Reel Review
This 2017 documentary is based on four reels of then recently discovered 16mm footage from a planned 1972 documentary about the East Hampton reclusive eccentrics Edith and Little Edie Beale. Albert and David Maysles, who worked as part of the crew on this abandoned project, would film their renowned documentary Grey Gardens four years later.
Director Göran Olsson kicks off the film with a prologue featuring famed photographer Peter Beard with footage of guests at at the East Hampton estate of Jackie Kennedy’s younger sister, socialite Lee Radziwill. Among the guests: Mick and Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. Seeing them in these home videos is a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. The documentary then zeroes in on Beard’s 1972 footage, including Radziwill overseeing improvements at her aunt and cousin’s dilapidated home.
The biggest problem with That Summer is that it barely is a movie – really it is little more than excerpts of those four reels set to a narrative and Sofia Coppola’s 2013 interview with Radziwill. Regardless, fans of the quirky Beales duo will eat this up – it gives added color into their bizarre world – and is a more empathetic portrait than Grey Gardens. Those unfamiliar with the Beales will likely be bewildered at all the fuss and long for more of the other famous figures featured in the prologue.
• Lee Radziwill died February 15, 2019 in her New York City apartment at age 85. Peter Beard, who suffered from dementia in his later years, was found dead in the forest near his home in Montauk in April 2020 nearly a month after he’d presumably wandered off at age 82. Model and Warhol associate Barbara Allen de Kwiatkowski had called Beard “one of the most beautiful men in the world.”
• Initially Peter Beard and Lee Radziwill intended their documentary to be about the environmental decline of the Hamptons, but after meeting with the reclusive Beales they quickly changed their focus.
• In 2017, American fashion designer Liz Lange bought Grey Gardens for $15.5 million from Sally Quinn (widow of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee). Above is how it looked then.