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Grey Gardens: filming and seeing the house post-restoration

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Getting started on Grey Gardens
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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In 1978 we came out with "Grey Gardens" that film is another story, as to how we got to make the film. Peter Beard, the famous photographer who made his fame with his photographs of animals in, in Africa, he was a good friend of ours and he lived in the Hamptons and so when his girlfriend, Lee Radziwill, thought of first writing a book and then maybe making a documentary film of her childhood in the Hamptons, Peter said- well, if you're going to do that you should talk to the Maysles brothers. So she called us up and explained that she wanted to make this film. At first I thought- how come you're making a film of your childhood when- without- with it being a documentary when, when it all took place in the past? She said- no, no, this- I have a list of some 40 people and things going on right now that- that would be the film. And she said- come on over, let's talk about it. So we got the list. Item number 34, I believe it was, was as she described it briefly, her eccentric Aunt and cousin. And so we made a deal where she would pay for the, for the filming and we began making this film. One of the first things that we did was to go to the family cemetery lot and film both sides of, of her family and with her commenting on the various people that were buried there. But I remember as she spoke, suddenly there was the sound of a train whistle way off in the distance and it just froze her. And you could tell that it must have been something that would bring back all of her childhood experiences, where the family would go out for weekends to the Hamptons, right, by train, of course, and that was the best thing I ever shot of her. But it never got into a film because, because one day as we were about to embark on some more filming she got a call from Edie Beale, the daughter in "Grey Gardens" and the daughter was asking Lee to help out because she and her mother were having problems with the Board of Health I believe, because of the way the health standards were so low in the house that they were living in. And she said- I'm going over there to see what I can do, maybe you want to come along. So we said- yeah, sure. And so we went along with her and she said- do you think you should bring the camera. And we said- oh yeah. So the moment we arrived there, there was Edie just outside the house talking with, with Lee and we began filming right away without even asking. And the daughter seemed to, you know, be okay with it 100%. Anyway, another week went by when Lee said- let's take a look at what we've got. And so we screened maybe an hour of footage, some of it the footage of, of Edie. We hadn't even yet gotten into the house. And we could see from Lee's reaction to it that, that Edie was such a powerful figure and so interesting that Lee was beginning to lose interest in the project, being overwhelmed by the attractiveness of the photograph-ability of the, of the daughter. And anyway, things came to a, to a stop and then several months later with that project at an end my brother and I decided to venture into the house and make a film of the two women. And that's how we got started. So we were introduced to these two women by, by Lee Radziwill.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles Tamara Tracz

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Grey Gardens, Africa, Peter Beard, Lee Radziwill, David Maysles, Edie Beale

Duration: 4 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008