By Sirkka Miller
“Grey Gardens,” the quirky and heartwarming documentary of unconventional socialite drop-outs “Big” and “Little” Edie Beale, is coming back to select theaters, revamped by Janus Films and the Academy Film Archive.
The film was originally released in 1976, and though initial responses to the film were somewhat bemused, it has since gained a cult following and become one of the most beloved and acclaimed nonfiction films ever made.
“It grows more and more captivating as time passes,” Peter Becker, a Janus Films representative, said, “and this restoration will be the version that lasts.”
Made by David and Albert Maysles, pioneers in the 1960s movement of Direct Cinema, “Grey Gardens” provides an intimate portrait of Edith Beale and her daughter Edie as they lived in the Grey Gardens estate of East Hampton. The mansion was falling apart, but the Beales seemed to take no mind — they kept the holes in the wall to let in the raccoons which they kept for company.
It seems like they’re keeping you for company, too. The pair talk frankly to each other and into the camera, as if asking the viewer’s opinion, an aspect of the film that’s at once startling and immensely charming.
“Grey Gardens” is a thoughtful film, somewhat in spite of itself. There’s odd truth in little Edie’s frank announcement that all she needed to do was “find a Libra man,” and her complaint that “they can get you in East Hampton for wearing red shoes on a Thursday.” She has been touted as a philosopher queen, and in these little quips, you see why.
The 2015 restoration included scanning the original film negatives and manually removing scratches, warps, and debris before assembling a final master roll. The process gets rather technical — think “16 mm A/B camera negative” and “color reversal internegative” — but suffice to say it was time consuming and took an extreme amount of care.
“It really was a ton of work, but we wanted to assure that what you’re seeing is the original film; it’s authentic,” Becker said.
The original sound was restored by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, California. They took a very light hand, a press release said, making sure to maintain the unique soundscape of “Grey Gardens.” While watching the film you feel completely immersed in the Beale’s environment — any music you hear is played or sung by the pair, and there is silence where silence should be.
In those silences, though, you hear the creaking of the ramshackle house, the rustling of leaves, and the distant sound of the East Hampton waves. The ambient noise keeps you aware of a palpable loneliness felt throughout the movie, an undercurrent that makes the banter and eccentricity that much more enjoyable.
Sirkka Miller is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.