That Summer review Edie Beale Lee RadziwillYear: 2018
Director(s): Goran Olsson
Writer(s): n/a
Region of Origin: USA

Rating: n/a
Color, 80 mins

Synopsis: A window into the past, exploring Lee Radziwill and others’ recollection of  East Hampton past and present. (Source)

At its core, That Summer is a series of free-flowing, stream of consciousness vignettes. Replete with rockstars, socialites, artists and outcasts, director Goran Olsson allows his footage to just be, compiling 4 reels of lost footage featuring Grey Gardens’ enigmatic “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale. Playing out more or less in raw form, the unaltered clips form an affecting view of family, identity and memory. In this way, the film has a loose, yet empathetic, fly-on-the-wall perspective, showing how we can remain tethered to the past despite a world that’s restlessly moving forward.

In the summer of 1972, socialite Lee Radziwill (also Jackie O’s sister) took to East Hampton with friends Peter Beard, Jonas Mekas and brothers Albert and David Maysles. Though the goal was to to capture the changing face of Lee’s childhood community, they quickly found another story. The group would turn their focus on the Beales of Grey Gardens, relatives of Lee living in isolation amidst a rapidly deteriorating home and environment. With no running water, rampant wildlife, and an endless collection of scattered possessions, the Beales confront their visitors, at times inviting, and others a bit tentative. As Lee attempts to renovate and accommodate her eccentric relatives, the Beales reveal the community’s growing hostility toward their way of life, and their resilience towards a world in which they don’t fit in.

That Summer review Edie Beale Peter BeardThough Olsson supplements his lost footage with voice-over from a Sofia Coppola interview with Lee, and a few moments of Beard rummaging through his photo archives, the film’s strength is the relationship between mother and daughter. Since the footage is raw and without focus, an honest and open dialogue forms between the two. What we’re left with are wonderfully mundane, trivial moments which would’ve most likely been cut out had Radziwill’s film been completed. By capturing these two at their most unguarded, these clips form an empathetic and bewildering mystery. These where two women who ultimately decided to live on their own terms, never conforming to the world around them despite progressively difficult conditions.

Even as it spends most of its time with the Beales themselves, the film also manages to touch upon Radziwill and Beard’s recollections of the period. The reason why the footage was never released until now remains a mystery, but it’s still a haunting time capsule, exploring class division, untapped human nature and the transformative nature of art and recollection. Though it won’t be for everyone, there’s a gentle if tenuous nature throughout the film, evoking each viewer’s own relationship with the past and how the people that come in and our of our lives can make a huge impact that will always be felt.