That Summer is a (sort-of) new documentary made using lost footage shot of the Beales in 1972, prior to the release of the cinema verite classic Grey Gardens. This film perhaps represents what the Maysles’ beloved documentary was supposed to be before they departed from the wishes of Lee Radziwill, who inspired the film.
Visually and stylistically, I found this film to be absolutely stunning. Even though it was shot on 16mm film in the 1970’s, the skill and professionalism with which much of the footage was shot far exceeds that with which modern documentaries can sometimes be shot. The framing is great, with a significant attention to detail. That is likely because the footage was shot by some of the most famous photographers of the 20th century, like Peter Beard and Andy Warhol. The job of the director in this film was mostly to re-assemble the lost footage and to get Beard’s narration for the film. There is also a bit of narration from Radziwill, but the majority comes from Beard. The way in which the footage was edited was wonderful, showing what was needed of the lost footage. It is interesting because this film is edited in a way to pay homage to Grey Gardens, even though that film was shot years later. Still, it manages to feel unique.
The film isn’t necessarily re-telling the story of the Beales, and that’s what makes it so successful. Instead, it tells the story of a previously abandoned attempt to tell the story of the Beales. It’s a behind-the-scenes documentary about a film that was never released. However, much of the footage is the footage that would have comprised the abandoned film. It is Beard’s voiceover narration that makes the story about their experience in shooting the film. Was this film entirely necessary? No, not really, but it is still entertaining and does shine a bit more light on the personalities of two of the most eccentric subject to ever be featured in a documentary.
Overall, I enjoyed That Summer. Although it isn’t something that absolutely had to be made, I found that watching the lost footage was a really interesting experience. If you are a fan of Grey Gardens, I think you will really enjoy this film too.
That Summer is now available in select theaters and on VOD.
Big Tuna's Rating: B
How Did I Watch It?: A press screener.
Had I Seen It Before?: No.
Would I Watch It Again?: Probably.
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I look at films as if through old red and blue 3D glasses— one lens is as art, one lens is as entertainment.
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